The state’s former attorney general says his department had cautioned the government years ago that the country’s golden passport scheme might have been incompatible with European law, essentially contradicting the executive branch's position that nobody had said anything.
Costas Clerides, who resigned the attorney general position last year weeks before his official retirement, weighed in on the golden passport public discussion on Wednesday after references were made about the chief law enforcer during his time while in office.
Clerides, whose unceremonial departure from the Legal department made headlines last year over disagreement with the administration over his exact retirement date, responded to questions on Alpha TV after media coverage of government officials who said they were never warned about any legal issues with golden passports.
Following Tuesday’s deposition of President Nicos Anastasiades before an independent committee, with media coverage of probe hearings into alleged corruption over the country’s disgraced Citizenship by Investment Programme, Clerides was asked to respond as to whether he had indeed warned the government over incompatibility issues with European law.
A number of officials have so far testified under oath before the committee’s four members, who have been told that no authorities or even the attorney general at the time ever raised any legal issues with the CIP.
The former chief law enforcer said a response from the interior ministry was not satisfactory, with a second letter pointing to an apparent serious issue of incompatibility with European law
But Clerides says that was not the case, adding that the Legal Department had sent a letter to the Interior Ministry, relaying concerns from the European Commission about the program and calling for a response.
“As I recall, back in 2015, the European Union through the Commission had expressed concern to the Republic over the Cypriot investment programme, particularly its incompatibility with European law and mainly about the lack of naturalization prerequisites showing sufficient ties between the applicant and Cyprus,” Clerides said.
The former chief law enforcer went on to say that a response from the interior ministry did not satisfy his department, with an administrator from Legal Services sending a second letter telling the government “indeed there is apparently a serious issue of incompatibility with European law as regards to the issue, that is, country ties and residence.”
“And further, the Legal Services Department deviates its position and any liability from the view taken by the ministry,” the letter said according to Clerides.
The issue was raised again in 2016, according to the former official, who tried to recall the timeframe off the top of his head, adding that they expressed the same concerns while also clarifying during the interview that Legal had an advisory role to the government and was acting as a “messenger.”
President says unaware of letters from Legal
President Anastasiades, during Tuesday’s appearance before the independent committee, said he was unaware of the letters regarding any legal issues with CIP.
Government spokesperson Kyriacos Koushos told state radio on Wednesday that President Anastasiades had no knowledge of the two letters, with local media reporting that the Presidential Palace had inquired about the two letters right after the deposition.
Anastasiades has acknowledged that the CIP was fraught with issues of abuse and omissions within the programme while he also admitted he had warned service providers against “reckless” behaviour and abuse.
But the President also argued the programme was designed to counteract dire financial conditions, listing a number of changes over the years. Stricter criteria were gradually introduced until the government was forced to suspend CIP last year following published accusations from Al Jazeera alleging systemic corruption.