An initial redacted report on golden passports made public in the Republic of Cyprus on Tuesday painted a picture of an Interior Ministry serving as a “filing office” without ability to examine cases in any meaningful way, with opposition crying foul over the committees’ selective method.
According to the Kalogerou report, submitted initially to Interior Minister Nikos Nouris in August 2020, ministry officials assigned to the Citizenship by Investment Programme were primarily concerned with checking items off a document list and issuing executive summaries for the President’s Cabinet, without meaningful checks throughout the process.
Only through Cypriot banks
Members of the committee, after holding consultations with the interior ministry, concluded that since 2013 and on, after the regulations required all CIP-related transactions be handled through only Cypriot banking institutions, officials believed that the Citizenship by Investment Programme was cleared for anti-money laundering rules because Cypriot banks were already “liable entities.”
The committee also said it gave priority to twelve case files corresponding to a total of 42 individuals, according to a summary within the report, saying that the interior ministry had added an additional name to a list of 26 passport holders following foreign media scrutiny in late 2019.
Out of 42 naturalizations examined by the committee, two case files corresponding to seven individuals did not appear to meet basic criteria for CIP approval.
CIP unit incapable of handling task
The report also pointed out many shortcomings within the CIP unit of the interior ministry.
“Based on gathered information, there was no unit that specialized in checking applications and/or it was constantly short on staff without proper training and/or knowhow,” the report said.
It was also discovered that on an average day there were 5-6 applications by foreign investors seeking Cypriot citizenship, with staff often times being under pressure to process files within a short time, “something that essentially left no time for effective inspection and a proper inquiry into background checks.”
Fields on archaic forms left blank
The committee also discovered that certain application forms were very old, since the inception of the Republic in 1960, without any updates or revisions. In some cases, information being sought on forms had “nothing to do with reality” while many fields were left blank.
Two to three paralegals or law firm staff would routinely sign as personal references, suggesting they personally knew the applicants, while there was no statement under penalty of perjury on the forms where applicants could vouch for the authenticity and truthfulness of the submitted information.
DIKO says specific cases kept out of prying eyes
But the committee’s published report was quickly criticized by centre opposition party DIKO, whose president has been a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the corruption investigation.
“Instead of examining 2500 case files as specified in the probe terms, the committee only looked at 12, in other words a mere 0.5%. The rest of the 99.5% of case files has not been examined,” a DIKO statement said.
The committee said in its report that they looked at specific cases of high risk, which were determined based on cases already picked by the President’s Cabinet, as well as other criteria including country of origin, database checks, the CSEC chairwoman’s professional familiarity with certain cases, and sanctions in the countries of origin.
But DIKO slammed the report even going as far as to say that the President’s former law firm had processed some 41 naturalizations through December 2018, with none of them being looked at by the committee.
DIKO also said the Kalogerou committee failed to examine any cases linked to law firms where current and former Cabinet members had held positions, including Government Spokesperson Kyriacos Koushos, Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis, former justice minister and current Attorney General George Savvides, and former defence minister nad current Deputy Attorney General Savvas Angelides.
The committee pointed out in the report that the sheer volume of cases within the period in question, some 2803 case files corresponding to an unknown number of individuals made it impossible to examine all cases without a three-pile system of high, medium, and low risk categories.