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20 May, 2024
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Legal defends blacked out passport report

Government lists reasons for redacting report but commissioner says data privacy not one of them


The Legal department in the Republic of Cyprus has issued its final report on golden passports, but its decision to include privacy issues as a reason to black out information has come under media scrutiny.

According to local media, the Law Office on Tuesday released a second and final report on Cyprus’ golden passports, which was prepared by a special investigative committee on naturalizations for exceptional categories granted to foreign businessmen and investors between 2007 and 17 August 2020.

Close to 800 pages, the report was authored by the four-member committee which used criteria based on risk level to examine the naturalization of 6779 individuals, finding 53% of them as unlawful.

According to the figures in the report, 5 citizenships were granted between 1 January 2007 and 29 February 2008 during the presidency of the late Tassos Papadopoulos, 228 between 1 March 2008 and 28 February 2013 under the administration of the late Demetris Christofias, and 6546 between 1 March 2013 and 17 August 2020 under the current administration of President Nicos Anastasiades.

Additional golden passports approved after 17 August 2020, a date set by Attorney General George Savvides as end date for the scope of the probe, have been brought into question by European officials, who called on Cypriot authorities to halt any further approvals of pending applications.

The commissioner said her office did have a role in being asked to ensure data privacy but stopped short of saying whether blacked out information had indeed raised privacy issues

Savvides, who has been accused by political opposition of having a conflict of interest, has been criticized in the media for publicizing only a redacted version, with his office citing a number of reasons for blacking out specific information. The Legal department’s official position included “adherence to legislation pertaining to the protection of the public’s interest, as it had been agreed with the investigative committee.”

According to official statements, the agreement stated that certain information could not be published for reasons of upholding European and national laws on privacy.

But Commissioner for Personal Data Protection Irene Loizidou Nikolaidou, who was a guest on state radio Wednesday morning, could not confirm that her office agreed with Legal’s interpretation pertaining to privacy issues.

Asked whether breach of privacy was a concern in the report, the commissioner said her office did have a role in being asked to ensure data privacy would be protected before publication.

But the commissioner stopped short of saying whether blacked out information had indeed raised privacy issues.

Other reasons for certain information being redacted in the report, such as names of investors, according to the Legal Department, involved the safeguarding of criminal investigations whether those may be ongoing or could be launched in the future, as well as protecting the rights of any defendants.

“The verbatim publication of the report on the part of the Attorney General would be illegal,” an official statement said.

Blacked out information included names of naturalized citizens, specific approval dates – except year, local agents, developers, and banking institutions.

The committee also suggested the revoking of citizenships granted to a number of foreign nationals and urged authorities to investigate the possible commission of criminal offences.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the investigative committee, former chief justice Myron Nicolatos, and three fellow members handed over the report to Savvides, who had appointed them last year to investigate whether citizenships granted by the executive on extraordinary criteria had violated any rules at the time of approval following an Al Jazeera exposé on corruption.

Cyprus  |  invest  |  citizenship  |  golden passport  |  corruption  |  Al Jazeera  |  Savvides  |  law  |  Europe  |  naturalization

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