Meme culture enthusiasts in Cyprus upped their game this week following a passport scandal reported by Al Jazeera, with catchphrases such as “this is Cyprus” and name dodging tricks seen in a secret video prompting media to spot five ways a lawyer could circumvent the system in the golden passport scheme.
Following shocking revelations of alleged corruption in the Citizenship by Investment Programme, as well as high profile resignations in Cyprus, members of the public took to social media to express anger but also poke fun at legal tricks and political ties that appeared to have been the basis of a system designed to grant passports to ineligible or questionable applicants.
Below are five "selling points" that high-powered attorney Andreas Pittadjis was heard in a secret video telling undercover reporters, in what appeared to be an effort to talk up a parallel system in place that would guarantee a Cypriot passport to any foreign investor at a price.
According to Kathimerini Cyprus, political ties topped the list, with the lawyer referring to people in key positions, such as former House Speaker Demetris Syllouris and former AKEL MP Christakis Giovanis, both of whom resigned over the scandal.
“When you know the angels, you don't need God,” Pittadjis said.
Another step in the lawyer’s list was organizing information about the client investor in such a way that the bank could be convinced that all procedures were followed to the letter.
“I will prepare the files I want, collect the documents I want,” the lawyer said.
In the case of an ineligible applicant, the lawyer suggested an investment could be made under a different person, such as a spouse, thus covering up the name of the original financier.
“If the person bringing the money is a company that doesn’t have to with the client, nobody would find out,” Pittadjis explained.
The fourth step in how to guarantee a passport for an ineligible foreign investor is assuming new identity without links to the original name, according to what was heard in the video, which was the basis for Al Jazeera to target Cyprus in the first place after getting a tip while working on a corruption story in the United Kingdom.
“We can name him Andreas Jr,” Pittadjis said in the video published on Monday, prompting social media users to post funny memes with fake Cypriot passport biopages of famous rich people such Bill Gates and infamous people like Osama Bin Laden, all having Cypriot surnames and born in local villages.
The last tip on the list was the amount of money a foreign investor would be willing to spend, suggesting that the Chinese national in question -a fictitious character made up by the undercover reporters- should spend a lot more than the minimum amount.
“Preferential treatment is given to people that the society and the government feels that they are not buying the passport, they are investors,” the lawyer said.
The internet was also flooded with many creative “This is Cyprus” memes after it became a catchphrase as Pittadjis used to explain how simple it would be for someone to change names because of an existing legal loophole in the system and nobody ever finding out.
Demonstrators who gathered this week to protest against political corruption also used similar phrases on their banners, with one reading “This is NOT Cyprus.”
Jokes were also made about drinking wine after Syllouris was seen in the video laying down a game plan and winking at the undercover reporters while holding a glass of wine and pledging "full support" to an ineligible inverstor.
Some protesters said “cheers” but “enough is enough.”