The Cypriot government announced on Friday that it would rescind the citizenship of 45 foreign investors and their relatives who acquired Cypriot passports through the country’s corrupt ‘golden visas’ scheme.
The decision was reached after an independent inquiry into the program advised revoking the citizenships of roughly 102 cases, government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos said.
“The cabinet decided to launch the revocation process for 39 investors and six members of their families,” Pelekanos said in a statement.
The Cabinet will be reviewing six more cases and looking closely at another 47, he added.
Former supreme court judge Myron Nikolatos led an independent committee that reviewed the practice of issuing what became known as “golden visas” between 2007 and 2020.
The committee concluded that there was “criminal and political” culpability and that the program was a citizenship-by-investment scheme.
“It is obvious the Cyprus Investment Programme was operating between 2007 and 2020 with gaps and deficiencies, an inadequate legislative framework and almost no regulatory framework,” Nikolatos told the press this summer.
A scathing report found that more than half of the 6,779 passports granted through the program were issued illegally.
Cypriot government implicated in golden visa scandal
The country abruptly stopped the issuance of Golden Visas when the news broke in a press report by Al Jazeera in 2020. Cyprus had spent years denying that the system was used by criminals, primarily money launderers, to buy legal residency in the country.
The Golden Visa scheme ran on the principle that applicants would be granted residency after an investment of $2.5 million in real estate in the country. The monies were desperately needed after the country’s economy almost suffered a total collapse in 2013.
The Al Jazeera story, titled “Cyprus Papers Undercover,” stated that there was outright corruption at the highest levels of the Cypriot government while reporting that Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades had repeatedly held that the program was appropriate and that other governments had an even worse record in granting citizenship to such individuals.
The report even named officials who they claimed were complicit in the scheme, including the Speaker of the Parliament, Demetris Syllouris, and a member of Parliament, Christakis Giovanis, who is also one of Cyprus’ largest real estate developers.
A trove of more than 1,400 documents leaked to the press led to the writing of the story. The papers allegedly showed that Cyprus knowingly violated laws governing citizenship in order to grant Golden Visas to convicted criminals and fugitives from justice.
The clear allegations of fraud are an embarrassment to the entire Golden Visa scheme, in which many European countries, including Greece, take part.
In addition to those already mentioned, Cypriot lawyers and other officials were also implicated in the corruption, according to the Al Jazeera story, which alleged that in many cases, there was no investigation whatsoever into the criminal background of applicants.