Golden visas are back in the news following reports that members of the Cambodian elite received or applied for Cypriot passports, with Reuters raising questions over the citizenship by investment programme.
In a special investigative report, the foreign news agency drew links between Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen and the Republic of Cyprus' citizenship by investment programme, citing leaked documents that show his family members and prominent figures of the Cambodian elite used their wealth to buy Cypriot citizenship.
Hun Sen, described as man ruling with an iron fist, had publicly denounced his political rivals for obtaining foreign passports, once declaring them "an escape route from difficulties in Cambodia."
But a confidential document sent by Cyprus' Interior Ministry to the President's cabinet, according to Reuters, shows that individuals who applied or acquired Cypriot passports included Hun Sen's niece and her husband, who is Cambodia's national police chief, the country's most powerful business couple, who are old family friends, and the finance minister, a long-time Hun Sen adviser.
Hun Sen's niece had received a Cypriot passport in 2016 based on the recommendation of officials within the ministry. Hun Kimleng, and her husband Neth Savoeun, Cambodia's powerful national police chief, were placed along with their three children on a US "visa blacklist" a year later for undermining democracy.
One of the applicants named in the interior ministry document appeared to be 26 years old and independently wealthy
Reuters did not clarify under which criteria the prime minister's grandniece had received the passport but cited Cypriot law saying the woman was eligible for citizenship if she was "financially dependent" on the primary applicant, who in this case was her mother, Hun Kimleng.
But Reuters also said one of the daughters who applied and was named in the interior ministry document, appeared to be 26 years old and independently wealthy, with real estate assets in London totaling an estimated £5.5 million a few years ago.
Knews could not ascertain whether the 26-year-old applicant was listed as a dependent or appeared on her own in the application process, which would have called for different criteria and vetting process as the two cases would not be connected.
Information detailing the citizenship of Hun Kimleng and her family was understood to be part of a stack of documents from the interior ministry that Reuters has seen. “These detail thousands of applications for Cypriot passports by wealthy foreigners,” the news agency said.
Reuters also alleged that a Cypriot law firm, which was involved in getting passports for at least five Cambodians, also secured citizenship for the vast majority of shareholders in a company incorporated in Cyprus in 2015 to help fund the construction of a hotel in a coastal town. However, it was also reported that the law firm said it did not direct its clients where they should invest their money.
Applicants must invest at least €2 million in Cyprus, with a minimum of €500,000 invested permanently in property.
But critics say the scheme has a reverse effect on local real estate, fueling a property boom that has priced out ordinary Cypriots and harmed the environment. Previous reports also pointed out weaknesses in the system and past failures in combatting money laundering through the programme.
The Reuters story can be accessed by clicking here.