A foreign investigative report says leaked documents from the Republic of Cyprus suggest the island’s government violated its own rules in granting “golden passport” citizenships, with Cypriot officials denying the accusations and raising credibility issues over the report.
Al Jazeera published on Sunday a series of articles and videos about the Cyprus Investment Programme, known widely as “golden passports” where wealthy foreign investors can obtain citizenship from the EU-member state by investing on the island as long as they meet certain criteria including having a clean criminal record.
But the Qatar-based network’s investigative unit says among applicants approved for Cypriot passports were convicted fraudsters, money launderers, and political figures accused of corruption in their own countries.
Al Jazeera said it had obtained leaked documents known as the “Cyprus Papers” showing more than 1400 passport applications approved by the Cypriot government between 2017 and 2019, with a total of some 2500 individuals granted citizenship.
The Qatari network named 12 prominent figures who obtained a Cypriot passport, arguing they were approved in violation of the CIP rules.
In one case, it was reported that a Ukrainian tycoon had been under investigation for corruption in his own country when he sought a Cypriot passport. In another case, a Russian national executive in the energy industry had been on Moscow’s wanted list for abuse of power.
Cypriot government rejects accusations
The Cypriot interior ministry issued a statement on Sunday evening, saying none of the individuals named in the article had violated any passport application rules, adding that all of them had met the requirements.
Al Jazeera said it was ready to reveal more names.
“In the coming days, Al Jazeera will reveal the identities of dozens of people who acquired Cypriot citizenship who, according to the country's own rules, in many cases should not have received a passport,” the report said.
The ministry also said on Sunday that applicants had been evaluated per CIP rules and all named persons in the report had met all requirements and prerequisites that had been in place at that given time.
“Regarding today’s publications in international media that insinuate the Republic of Cyprus went ahead with the naturalization of persons who did not meet the criteria of the Cyprus Investment Programme, we want to clarify that all individuals mentioned in the article had been evaluated according to the criteria that had been in place at the given time, which they had met,” the statement said.
The interior ministry went on to say that it was “well known” that the government had gradually imposed stricter rules, including a recent vote in the House that called for more transparency.
In an updated disclaimer, Al Jazeera acknowledged the new regulations, vowing to reveal others who got Cypriot citizenship including 'many who would now be in breach' of the rules
Last year, tougher rules for the programme were also introduced on eligibility, essentially barring applicants who were under investigation, wanted, convicted or under international sanctions from obtaining foreign citizenship.
“Within these changes but also additional provisions in the Regulations, we are already examining and we shall examine all information that came to light,” the ministry said.
But some individuals accused of obtaining Cypriot citizenship illegally maintain that charges against them were “a complete fabrication and politically motivated,” according to the report.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, who was mentioned in the Al Jazeera story, was quoted as saying “no citizenship was granted in violation of the regulations in force at the given time."
Nouris’ office also issued a statement saying authorization had been given by all government agencies involved in the CIP process, as well as international agencies, regarding the specific individuals in Sunday’s report.
In an updated disclaimer, Al Jazeera acknowledged a change in the regulations, with the network saying it “will reveal dozens of other people who acquired Cypriot citizenship including many who would now be in breach of the country's rules for application.”
According to Kathimerini Cyprus, political pundits on the island have raised questions over the AJ report but also noted the government would need to provide convincing answers to questions raised by the foreign network.
A government official, who spoke on state-radio CyBC on Monday morning, said it was a “known fact” that Al Jazeera’s headquarters were in Qatar, adding that the country had good relations with Turkey.
“Al Jazeera is a network in Qatar, we all know what it means to be state-owned in Qatar,” he said.
The official said he suspected the documents were leaked out of the Cypriot parliament, adding that the leak of confidential information was a criminal offence.