Nicosia has refuted allegations concerning a Cypriot minister and his trips to London, in reaction to an Al Jazeera secret investigation into how convicted criminals could take on new identities and launder money through ownership of English football clubs by deceiving authorities.
An Al Jazeera video published on Monday shows how trust fund manager and football deal-maker Christopher Samuelson along with private investigator and former Scotland Yard detective Keith Hunter appear to have been involved as middlemen who used “dirty tricks” to obtain new passports with names for clients who sought to launder money by deceiving authorities in getting to own a football club.
In the secret video, Hunter tells the undercover reporters that a Cypriot minister was visiting London at the time. The middleman linked the visit to a Russian client’s case, suggesting he could sound out the visiting Cypriot official to seek a possible way forward on the case of their Chinese boss too.
It was understood that Hunter was alleging that his Russian client, who was wanted by Interpol and could not travel under his real name, was able to obtain a Cypriot passport under a new name through an entire process that took place at the consulate in London.
Nicosia quickly reacted to the video on Tuesday, refuting Hunter’s allegations as presented in the video.
"The presidency of the Republic refutes categorically that any Minister of the Government has at any time traveled to London for the purposes alleged by a specific individual who appears in the Al Jazeera video," the statement said.
According to Philenews, another Cypriot official had made visits to the consular office, where a Russian foreign investor had given his biometrics for a passport application, citing medical reasons preventing him from flying to the island.
According to Philenews, another Cypriot official had made visits to the consular office, where a Russian foreign investor gave his biometrics for a passport application
The daily also reported that the Russian individual had been a foreign investor client of Andreas Pittadjis, a lawyer who has been implicated in golden passport corruption allegations in another secret video by Al Jazeera.
Pittadjis, a high-powered attorney who maintains he was taken out of context, had famously told the undercover reporters on camera “this is Cyprus,” referring to a simple name-change procedure which he continued to describe as lawful.
“This is Cyprus” went on to become a catchall phrase on the island.
At least four Cypriot nationals have filed police complaints against the Qatar-based network over the video “The Cyprus Papers Undercover” published in October 2020, which appeared to implicate them and others through secret recordings in corruption over golden passports aimed at foreign investors.
Former House Speaker Demetris Syllouris as well as land developer and former MP Christakis Giovanis have accused Al Jazeera of entrapment and breach of privacy, while similar complaints were also filed by Pittadjis as well as civil servant Kypros Kyprianou, who held director positions in the interior ministry while also serving as interim head for the Cyprus Intelligence Agency in May 2020.
Al Jazeera has said it came to Cyprus to investigate golden passports following specific clues after coming across incriminating information in Britain during the investigation into football club ownership deals.
In the latest documentary titled "The Men Who Sell Football,” Samuelson and Hunter, both of whom were secretly recorded on video, appeared to have said they could help AJ undercover reporters obtain a new passport for their client, a fictitious Chinese national on the run after being convicted of crimes, and further secure a Cypriot passport with a new name to deceive football authorities.
Just 2 months for €10 million investment
The two middlemen appeared to be the people who would prepare due diligence reports for the English Football League and the Cyprus authorities.
Samuelson, also known as “the magician” according to Al Jazeera, emailed the undercover reporters telling them he had met up with Hunter’s contacts in Cyprus, where the duo would push for “Mr. X” to obtain a European passport through the country’s disgraced Ctizenship-by-Investment programme.
“Last evening I attended Keith’s box at Epsom races and met Chris Giovani and Antonis Antoniou who handle obtaining Cypriot passports,” Samuelson wrote, adding that their discussion “resulted in the Minister saying that the passport would be issued within 8 weeks providing the investment was 10 million euros.”
President's connection to Saudi dealings probed again
In addition to the denial statement by the presidency in Nicosia, the government also played down another report this week by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which made references to President Nicos Anastasiades’ ties to Saudi businessman Abdulrahman bin Khalid bin Mahfouz.
The presidency accused the OCCRP report of simply rehashing an old story and pointed to two probes and the government’s determination to close loopholes.
OCCRP says bin Mahfouz and his associates were purported to have paid more than twice the market value on some properties, one of which was very close to the president’s civilian residence in Limassol.
The report clarified there was no evidence linking Anastasiades to the Saudi businessman’s transactions on the island but cited reports over real estate deals that “looked suspicious” as well as pointed out that the president chaired a Cabinet meeting that ruled in favor of bin Mahfouz’s applications.