CYPRUS: President apologizes for golden passport scheme.

As published on milligazette.com, Monday 5 July, 2021.

The leader of the Greek Cypriot administration, Nicos Anastasiades, apologized Friday for handing out EU passports to non-EU citizens under what was known as the golden passport scheme.

"What happened there was the most painful time in my 40-year political career," Anastasiades told state television.

A Greek Cypriot commission of inquiry found that thousands of non-EU citizens had illegally gained citizenship between 2007 and late 2020, which gave them access to move freely throughout the whole of the European Union, Anadulo news agency reported

Overall, 6,779 people were issued passports, 3,609 of them illegally. The legal authorities are currently investigating who they are.

To obtain a "golden passport" applicants had to invest at least 2.5 million euros ($2.9 million) in Cyprus.

The scheme is not illegal per se, but last year investigative journalists from broadcaster Al-Jazeera uncovered the zeal with which senior officials pursued it. Furthermore, they found that the papers were also being issued to convicted criminals.

The parliamentary president at the time stepped down due to the scandal after a video showed him promising an applicant he would "deal" with his requests.

The EU has been taking measures against such passport schemes after a similar system was revealed in Malta. The Greek Cypriot administration stopped its scheme in November 2020.

Tellingly, in February last, the leader of Greek Cypriot administration, Nicos Anastasiades, had defended the practice of granting citizenship to non-European Union citizens if they invested heavily in the small Mediterranean island nation, the daily Sabah had reported.

Anastasiades is suspected of having profited from the cash-for-passports program. Consequently, he had to testify in February before a committee of parliamentarians and lawyers who have launched an investigation.

The president's defense centers on the amount of money the passports brought in to state coffers. According to Anastasiades, investments totaled 9.7 billion euros – money that was urgently needed, especially after the country's 2013 financial crisis.

The Commission has issued a letter of formal notice to Malta over their cash-for-passports schemes.

"While the previous investor citizenship scheme is no longer in force, Malta established a new scheme at the end of 2020," the EU letter pointed out.

Malta started selling passports to wealthy foreigners in 2014, with strong demand mostly from rich Russians, Chinese and others in the Arab gulf.

An EU passport grants visa-free travel, working and residency rights throughout the 27-nation European Union.

In response to the Commission's move, the Maltese government said it "firmly" reiterated that citizenship is a matter for member states to decide and should remain so.

It added that it wanted a "constructive dialogue" with Brussels and would answer its objections more fully in due course.

Valletta's "citizenship by investment" scheme has raked in $1.5 billion since it was launched in 2014.

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