The foreign media network Al Jazeera, that has this week been publishing a series of articles and videos on the murky side of the Cyprus ‘golden passports’ program after it was leaked classified documents, reported that the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders is looking into the possibility of legal action against Cyprus.
According to Al Jazeera, Reynders’ concern includes all European citizenship-by-investment programs, claiming he preferred to completely phase them out.
Focus shifted once again to the Cyprus ‘golden passports’ scheme this week after back-to-back reports by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit took a hit at how the scheme led to the island selling Cypriot, and by extension European, citizenship to criminals, fugitives, and people considered to be at high risk of corruption, such as politically-exposed persons (PEPs).
The reports, based on over one thousand classified documents relating to the scheme, which Al Jazeera dubbed The Cyprus Papers, and which consisted of almost 1,500 passport applications containing over 2,400 names, “showed Cyprus failed to conduct due diligence on dozens of cases, allowing criminals and people under international sanctions to buy citizenship for the EU-member state,” Al Jazeera reported.
According to the Qatar-based network, Reynders said he asked the legal department of the European Justice Commission "to analyse if it is possible in the legal framework that we have now to start an infringement proceeding or to come with a legislative proposal".
While Reynders added that a positive step would be new legislative action on the part of the EU, Cyprus itself shoulders the responsibility to move in this direction.
Reynders stressed that the first point of action should be the launching of investigations at the national level from the justice system, and hence for passports to be revoked if any red flags are detected.
Audit Office launches probe into Cyprus Investment Programme
Though on Thursday the Cyprus interior minister Nicos Nouris described the Al Jazeera reports as “propaganda” that only served to damage the island’s economy and reputation through “deceptive means” and “falsified information,” the local Audit Office it announced Friday that it will be launching a probe into the citizenship-by-investment scheme after the fierce criticism it has been accumulating in recent days.
The Audit Office said that initially, the investigation will cover citizenships granted after May 21, 2018, when important stricter rules were approved by Cabinet, but noted that based on findings, the investigation may cover other periods as well.
It stressed every effort will be made to conclude investigations as soon as possible.
Law enforcement focusing on leak
Police spokesperson Christos Andreou said Friday that after the collection of over 60 statements and after scientific examinations on pieces of evidence, a report has been drafted which is to be sent to the Legal Service that will decide on the next steps.
Andreou added that statements are still expected to be collected from members of the Cabinet and Parliament, as national authorities have been vocal in their determination to locate the individual who leaked the classified documents to the foreign media network.
Local law enforcement had announced earlier this week that they began looking into the leak from early June, after the interior minister alerted it of a personal data leak linked to the Cyprus Investment Program.
According to Christou, though numerous statements had been collected in early June over the personal data breach, the Al Jazeera publications revealed that the leak also contained classified documents, in response to which police expanded their investigations.
As such, police said they could not be sure on a timeline for the completion of investigations.