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25 November, 2020
 
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Attorney General calls Auditor ‘to order’

Audit Office insists on access to files to examine legality of golden passports linked to casino

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Cypriot Attorney General George Savvides issued a stern warning on Saturday, calling to order the state’s auditor general over his insistence on examining specific golden passport case files linked to a casino project on the island.

“I call to order the Auditor General and the Audit Office. The Attorney General is the guardian of the Constitution and Law. Actions and statements that undermine or disregard legal opinions and decisions by the Attorney General constitute an aberration,” Savvides wrote on Twitter.

Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides, who also posted on Twitter on Saturday, called on the government to "lift obstacles" in order for an audit to go forward "properly" regarding investor passports.

Local media reported that Michaelides discovered 23 applications for foreign investor passports, listed on an interior ministry spreadsheet that the audit office had managed to obtain before being blocked further access to government documents.

Orders to "expedite" passports

Knews understands that the spreadsheet, saved as an Excel document, contained applications in overview format, with 23 cases flagged as “Orders to expedite from Interior Minister.”

'I call to order the Auditor General and the Audit Office... Actions and statements that undermine or disregard legal opinions and decisions by the Attorney General constitute an aberration'

Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides, who oversaw the island’s disgraced golden passport scheme while he was serving as interior minister, recently told Kathimerini Cyprus he should have pushed harder to end the programme while he had the chance.

The audit office, which calculated that passport applications through the Citizenship by Investment Programme took on average 327 days of processing at the time, pointed out that the 23 cases were adjudicated on average in just 169 days, half the time compared to 725 applications found on the same spreadsheet.

During a House Audit committee hearing in early October, an interior ministry official clarified that 18 out of the 23 cases in question had to do with a resort casino project in Cyprus, saying the Interior Minister had given orders to expedite “in an effort to support foreign investments in the country.”

Michaelides has asked for the files of the 18 cases in order to examine their legality, after his office alleged based on limited information on 6 out of the 18 individuals that it appeared all of them were naturalized on the same day by a Cabinet decision on 25 July 2019, without meeting all the criteria.

But Savvides, who was a member of the Cabinet at the time serving as justice minister before becoming the nation’s chief legal advisor, tagged Michaelides and the Audit Office in his Saturday Tweet, warning that an ongoing investigative committee tasked under his instructions to examine the programme ought to proceed without being disturbed.

“The handling of the specific case falls under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Attorney General. The Investigative Committee assigned to examine executive decisions over the naturalization of foreign investors and businesspeople ought to continue freely,” Savvides wrote.

Auditor also wants paper copy of Cabinet decision

But in a letter to Savvides, Michaelides argued that he had the authority under the Constitution to examine any financial transaction to ascertain whether it was performed legally, with all required taxes paid, while clarifying that his office would be okay with just paper copies of the files.

“Now the government is even refusing to allow our office access to a Presidential Cabinet decision dated 27 July 2019, while it is directly linked to a loss of state revenue,” the auditor wrote.

TAGS
Cyprus  |  golden passports  |  Al Jazeera  |  corruption  |  probe  |  Savvides  |  Michaelides

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