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23 September, 2021
 
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Stars in Al Jazeera video face committee

Former speaker and land developer testify a day after redacted interim report published on golden passports

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Two politicians featured in an Al Jazeera secret video on corruption in Cyprus’ disgraced golden passport program are set to testify on Wednesday, a day after the publication of a redacted interim report that confirmed irregularities and violations in

Former House speaker Demetris Syllouris is set to testify before the golden passport committee on Wednesday afternoon, followed by former AKEL MP and land developer Christakis Giovanis, both of whom were secretly recorded during an undercover operation appearing eager to assist a fictitious Chinese investor with a criminal past to get a Cypriot EU passport.

Local high-powered attorney Andreas Pittadjis, who famously said “this is Cyprus” on camera while pointing out loopholes in the system, was also scheduled to appear before the committee but his deposition was pushed back due to a personal matter. Eartlier this year, the lawyer said Al Jazeera took him out of context.

On Tuesday, the passport committee published an interim report in Greek with redactions made by Attorney General George Savvides, who previously served as justice minister before becoming the nation’s chief law enforcer.

The committee’s 515-page damning interim report included information on irregularities in the unlawful issuance of 3500 passports to dependants of primary applicants with the now-defunct Citizenship by Investment Programme.

Information that was either negative about applicants or other details that could reveal possible conflicts of interest during Cabinet reviews were withheld at the minister level

The scope of the investigation covered a period from 2017 until 17 August 2020, when new regulations passed the House, with the committee noting there were 6546 naturalizations during the Anastasiades administration that started in March 2013.

Prior to the Anastasiades teo-term office, 228 naturalizations had taken place during the Christofias single term administration and before that 5 other cases were approved between January 2007 and February 2018 by the Papadopoulos administration.

The report noted that the CIP, which was set up in 2007 on a small scale, grew enormously in 2013 and became a multibillion industry for the island nation hit by an unprecedented financial crisis, with the four-member committee pointing to a “general lack of structure in procedures” and “complete lack of operation manuals” well after the program picked up steam.

It was also reported that information that was either negative about applicants or other details that could reveal possible conflicts of interest during Cabinet reviews were withheld at the minister level.

The probe also found that the European Union had raised concerns with the interior ministry as early as April 2014 when officials “submitted crystal clear recommendations to modify the CIP so that only foreigners who maintain genuine ties to the country could be naturalized, something which the government had ignored.”

Previously government officials had argued that the administration was bringing in much needed money into the crisis-stricken economy, adding that many spouses and children got passports against the law but for humanitarian reasons.

But according to Al Jazeera reporters who investigated allegations of corruption on the island, a number of ineligible investors were routinely advised to apply as dependants of primary applicants so that they could face less scrutiny.

Savvides said redactions in the report were made to protect privacy as well as possible criminal investigations.

But in some cases, details or names had already leaked to the media, such as an applicant who got a recommendation letter from Archbishop Chrysostomos, who was widely reported to have been Malaysian fugitive Jho Low. In one other case, the name of an applicant was redacted for anonymity purposes but his wife’s name was not.

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