The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Cyprus to suspend citizenship by investment scheme

Tuesday, 13 October 2020, 12:58 Last update: about 10 days ago

Cyprus has announced that it will be suspending its citizenship for investment programme, following reports of abuses of a system that gives the rich a passport and visa-free travel throughout the EU.

The suspension will come into effect as from November 1, government spokesperson Kyriakos Koushos told journalists after an emergency session of the island’s cabinet.

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For a minimum investment of €2 million, the Cypriot scheme provides passports that guarantee visa-free travel in the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

Criticised as opaque and fraught with the risk of money-laundering, the scheme is popular with Russians, Ukrainians and, more recently, Chinese and Cambodians.

The suspension comes after the Al Jazeera TV station aired a documentary on the programme.

Undercover journalists posing as middlemen for an imaginary Chinese investor with a conviction surreptitiously filmed a senior Cypriot state official, a lawmaker and a lawyer allegedly offering to assist the process.

By law, a criminal record should disqualify a potential investor.

The persons filmed in the documentary claimed entrapment and said they had reported the matter to authorities months ago.

Reuters reported in October 2019 that Cambodians in the inner circle of long-time leader Hun Sen, plus family members, had acquired passports, leading authorities to review the programme.

Another report by Al Jazeera in August this year said at least 60 individuals who acquired citizenship between 2017 and 2019 were high risk, and would probably not have qualified with new tighter rules since introduced.

The news comes only weeks after the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke out against schemes such as these – with Malta also having its own variation of a citizenship by investment scheme – and said that they went against European values.

Malta has long been under the microscope for its citizenship scheme, called the Individual Investor Programme (IIP).  The first cycle of the IIP has closed, but a second phase with some revised regulations is currently in the pipeline.

Two weeks ago, the European Commission told The Malta Independent that it would be analysing Malta’s proposed scheme.

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