NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus has begun proceedings to revoke the citizenships of three investors and seven of their family members, an official said Wednesday, rights that were granted under the country’s ill-fated investment-for-citizenship program that had repeatedly flouted its own rules.
Deputy government spokeswoman Niovi Parisinou said, in all, similar citizenship revocation proceedings have been set in motion for 60 investors and 159 of their dependents over the past year, with six individuals already having their travel documents annulled.
The Cypriot government is trying to rectify flaws, loopholes and oversights during the program’s 13-year run that came to a head in 2020 when an undercover TV report allegedly showed the parliamentary speaker and a powerful lawmaker claiming that they could skirt the rules to grant citizenship to a fictitious Chinese investor supposedly convicted of fraud in his country.
The TV report touched off widespread anger domestically and tarnished the country’s reputation among other European Union nations, prompting the government to scrap it.
The program had generated more than 9 billion euros ($8.7 billion) for the country that was reeling from a 2013 financial crisis that brought it to the verge of bankruptcy and led its second-largest bank to shut down.
The program proved particularly attractive to foreign investors because obtaining an EU passport allowed them access to the 27-member bloc. Hundreds of passports were issued to wealthy Russians.
But an independent commission charged with investigating the program found that it operated “with blanks and omissions, without a legal framework and almost without a regulatory framework.””
The four-member commission said over half of a total 6,779 passports may have been issued unlawfully to investors’ dependents or top company executives because there were no such laws governing that, while a third of the remainder were granted to investors who failed to meet all the criteria.
The commission recommended citizenship revocation in 85 cases in which the applicants may have committed criminal or other offenses to secure a passport.