As published on greece.greekreporter.com, Friday 29 January, 2021.
Cyprus President Anastasiades presented new anti-corruption measures which will be instituted in the island nation after a series of scandals going all the way up through its Parliament last year cast doubts on the process it uses to grant citizenship.
President Nicos Anastasiades termed the measures the country’s “greatest-ever intervention” in trying to curb the financial shenanigans that came to light after an Al Jazeera expose showed serval officials allowing known criminals to obtain Cypriot residency.
The people of Cyprus showed their anger, frustration and embarrassment at the laying bare of the corruption engaged in by several officials, with one of them being the Speaker of its Parliament.
Its vaunted citizenship-for-investment program, in which foreigners who laid out hundreds of thousands of euros in investments into the country, is now in tatters, a victim of what most believe was a system in which officials operated without any checks or balances.
An anti-corruption taskforce will now be instituted under the direction of the Cypriot attorney general. In addition, there will be what President Anastasiades called an “integrity service” which must look into the personal assets of public officials to weed out any potential conflicts of interest.
President Anastasiades had been the focus of the public’s anger and resentment, culminating in demonstrations in Nicosia last year, over what they perceived to be widespread mismanagement and corruption during the eight year that he has been in office.
The Cypriot leader went on national television on Thursday evening to defend himself, calling the allegations part of “an orchestrated campaign” which was designed to damage him politically.
In addition to these moves, Cyprus’ Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis also stated that there would be a new committee tasked with making sure there was no political interference in government appointments in the island nation.
She also announced that she would strengthen the legal protections for whistleblowers and that a registry of lobbyists would also be created.
Other measures meant to curb financial malfeasance will be put into effect, including a new financial crimes investigations unit for the police, and heightened penalties for corruption–related crimes.
For the first time the Cypriot public will also be allowed to have online access to the proceedings of all the ongoing corruption investigations that take place in the country.
Cyprus’ vaunted citizenship-for-investment program, part of the so-called “Golden Visa” scheme, which was instituted in 2007, provided Cypriot passports to all individuals who invested at least 2.5 million euros ($3 million) into the country’s economy.
A system which was clearly ripe for graft and corruption, it drew many foreigners to invest into the island nation because a passport from European Union member nation would mean they could move freely anywhere they wished within the 27 nations of the EU.
The financial crisis experienced by Cyprus in 2013 only made matters worse, as the Golden Visa plan took on a life of its own. Before the Al Jazeera expose brought the endemic corruption to light, the program had raised more than 8 billion euros ($9.7 billion).
Cypriot President Anastasiades maintained on Thursday, however, that allegations that the program had been designed to attract more income to his law firm were “false” and “without shame.”
Last year, the Speaker of Parliament, along with a veteran lawmaker, were caught on video allegedly promising to help a potential investor — one whom they had been told was a convicted criminal — skirt the regulations to obtain citizenship.
The officials resigned immediately but demonstrators at the time called for sweeping reforms in the way Cyprus does business.
Last month, an investigation that was prompted by the revelations showed that the vetting procedures for the citizenship program were indeed lax — and some investors had not filled out their applications completely or had given false information on them.
Another investigation, headed up by the Cypriot Attorney General, is now looking further into how the scheme operated.