On August 23rd, Al Jazeera Investigations began publication of a series of reports accusing the Cyprus Government of granting passports under its investor citizenship scheme to criminals. So far, Al Jazeera has not provided credible evidence of this, although the network has promised to release actual data in further publications. The Government of Cyprus has responded that changes made in 2019 and 2020 to the Citizenship by Investment Scheme have tightened due diligence and eligibility requirements.
Nicosia, Cyprus & Qatar: 23 August 2020
According to Al Jazeera, a total of 1,471 applications containing the names of 2,544 names of applicants for the Cyprus Investor Citizenship Programme have come into its possession. The applications concern the years 2017 – 2019.
According to Al Jazeera, the documents obtained showed that among the applicants approved for Cypriot passports were fraudsters, money launderers and political figures accused of corruption in their own countries.
The Qatar based network named several figures who obtained a Cypriot passport, stating they were approved in violation of the CIP rules. In one case it was reported that among those who bought the passports were elected politicians of several countries, board members of state enterprises and the brother of a former Lebanese Prime Minister. In another case, it was reported that a Russian national executive in the energy industry had been on Moscow’s wanted list for abuse of power.
Al Jazeera has criticized the programme several times for being a security risk since its start of implementation in 2013. No evidence of an actual security risk has been provided by the network.
Al Jazeera’s releases so far feature several video animations which contain unsupported or unsubstantiated conclusions, and resemble more an organized smear campaign than credible journalism. As stated: the network has promised to release further documentation.
Cyprus changed its rules in May 2019 and in July 2020. This has tightened the due diligence and eligibility requirements for Cyprus citizenship. It also enables the Government of Cyprus to withdraw the citizenship to anyone who was considered damaging to Cyprus’s national interest.
The Ministry of Interior issued the response to the publication of Al Jazeera on the Cyprus Investment programme on the 23 August 2020. The announcement states (in Greek language, translated into English by NavInvest Cyprus):
“On the occasion of today’s publications in the international media that suggest that the Republic of Cyprus proceeded with the naturalization of persons who did not meet the criteria of the Cyprus Investment Programme, we want to clarify that all the individuals mentioned in Al Jazeera article were evaluated according to the criteria which were in force at the given time and which were fulfilled.
In addition, the consent of all relevant services in Cyprus and internationally had been secured for these individuals.
It is well known that the Republic of Cyprus has made successive changes to improve the Citizenship by Investment Programme, most importantly the recent vote by the House of Representatives [including] regulation, which ensure transparency, credibility and continuous control both before submitting an application and after obtaining Cypriot passport.
NavInvest Cyprus notes that the right to issue citizenship remains a sovereign right of each country, and that a number of countries issue investor residence and citizenship programmes, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others.
Some media sources in Cyprus suggest that the release of these documents by Al Jazeera is a deliberate attempt by Qatar to undermine Cyprus in favour of Turkey, which has its own Citizenship by Investment Programme.
According to Andrew Rosenbaum writing in the Cyprus Mail:
“That Al Jazeera is subject to political control is not in doubt. As early as February 2013, Der Spiegel reported that “a prominent correspondent who, until one year ago, used to report in Beirut for the network, says: “Al-Jazeera takes a clear position in every country from which it reports — not based on journalistic priorities, but rather on the interests of the Foreign Ministry of Qatar.”
Within the next few years, the news channel saw itself banned in Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia among other countries. The New York Stock Exchange banished Al Jazeera correspondents in 2003. In 2017, the UAE.
Why attack Cyprus?
Turkey has a ‘golden visa’ programme that competes directly with that of Cyprus.
It grants residency, citizenship and a second passport to applicants investing either in real estate or a bank deposit.
In 2016, Turkey launched the citizenship acquisition by investment programme for foreign investors with a minimum property investment of $1 million. Last September, this was reduced to $250,000, and the period the property has to be held was cut down to three years after acquiring citizenship.
Not only is Turkey’s ‘golden visa’ scheme much less costly than that of Cyprus, but controls on access are much weaker – this is clear in the fact that Turkey has granted citizenship to more than 9,000 people through real estate investments since mid-2016, according to the head of a foreign real estate association.”
While these allegations may or may not be accurate, the Government of Cyprus has tightened citizenship conditions in mid-2019 and in 2020. It remains to be seen what the actual crimes or misconduct Al Jazeera is referring to are, and whether these were known at the time citizenship in Cyprus was granted.
For further information, please contact:
Al Jazeera. 24 August 2020
Al Jazeera. 25 August 2020
Ekathimerini.com. 24 August 2020
Cyprus Mail. 25 August 2020
23 August 2020
NavInvest Cyprus: 10 June 2019