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12° Nicosia,
02 December, 2020
 
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Probe launched against Al Jazeera operation

Officials shown in secret video file complaint as shocking revelations emerge in golden passport bombshell

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The state attorney ordered a probe following a complaint filed by high-profile Cypriot officials targeted by an Al Jazeera secret investigation on corruption, with members of the public outraged as more shocking revelations emerged in a new Cyprus Papers video.

Days before an Al Jazeera bombshell video was published online, that aimed to examine how an investor with a criminal past could get a golden passport in Cyprus, Cypriot Attorney General George Savvides ordered an investigation following allegations of entrapment and breach of privacy filed separately by two lawmakers, House Speaker Demetris Syllouris and MP Christakis Giovanis, who were targeted by the investigative journalists.

Two others implicated in the scandal, high-powered attorney Andreas Pittadjis shown in the video and civil servant Kypros Kyprianou, also filed a complaint according to media reports.

Syllouris and Giovanis, along with Pittadjis, were shown in a secret video appearing supportive and offering to help navigate a future passport application by a Chinese investor with a criminal past, who was in fact a fictitious character made up by AJ undercover reporters.

Makers and Shakers

An Al Jazeera investigate reporter, who was outside the Parliament on Monday, told a local TV channel they were initially working on a corruption story in the UK when Cyprus only came into the picture after someone suggested they knew makers and shakers on the island.

Back in August, an Al Jazeera investigative report said leaked documents from the Republic of Cyprus suggest the island’s government violated its own rules in granting “golden passport” citizenships, while Cypriot officials denied the accusations and raised credibility issues over the report.

After gradually publishing more information, Cypriot authorities said they were investigating a number of suspicious cases including one where a name of an investor had been changed.

The latest video showed a number of serious revelations, including the lawyer suggesting they had managed to change a foreign investor’s name on his Cypriot passport.

“I have a client that his name now is the name half of United States has, but if you check his original name, he cannot even travel with that name,” the lawyer said on tape, suggesting the name change took place legally through an affidavit.

“Really? You’ve done this before?” asked a person undercover, with Pittadjis responding, “of course, this is Cyprus.”

The lawyer went on to explain there was a loophole in the Cypriot system, where a “gap” meant previous and new names would not be connected to each other after a passport got issued.

But the attorney maintains he got wind of the operation and played along to gain the investor and his visiting team’s trust in order to get information and pass it on to authorities.

The lawyer went on to explain there was a loophole in the Cypriot system, where a 'gap' meant previous and new names would not be connected to each other

Syllouris, who said on Monday he was also suspicious of the whole deal, was caught on tape saying he would run the investor's situation by Kyprianou, who was serving at the time as general director of the interior ministry.

Kyprianou, who was transferred to education ministry last month, had been appointed deputy director at the interior ministry in 2017 and later became director. He also served as interim head for the Cyprus Intelligence Agency from 8 to 31 May 2020.

But media also picked up on another reference in the video, where Syllouris was described as someone who was on Giovanis’ payroll as a board member before becoming House Speaker.

Syllouris has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed calls to resign by the Green party but admitted he was friends with Giovanis and that he was invited for a social visit at the MP’s house.

Giovanis, who is also a well-known land developer on the island, reportedly said in his complaint that the undercover reporters entered his residence illegally, on false premises.

Additional media said the four implicated individuals sent letters to the attorney general alleging offences committed against them, including secretly being videotaped without their consent as well as unlawfully being spied upon.

Police confirmed they had received orders from the attorney general to investigate the case. On Tuesday, police spokesperson Christos Andreou said the instructions directed investigators to base their investigation on the complaints filed by the four individuals.

“We are at a preliminary stage, too early to know when the probe will be concluded, how many will be investigated and what will be examined” Andreou said.

Police have already checked the documents of Al Jazeera reporters outside Parliament in downtown Nicosia, following reports of a camera crew setting up shop outside the building on Monday. The release of the video had been announced a day earlier in a social media teaser.

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