On Tuesday, November 16, the Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides said that at the end of 2021 - the beginning of 2022, the Accounting Chamber will provide a report on the investigation of the cases of Golden passports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, then it will be made public.
According to Michaelides, employees of the Audit Office checked about 3,500 investors and 3,500 of their relatives.
'We investigate all investors without exception. With the help of the Department of Lands, we identify what assets they still have. We also reveal how much money the government treasury has lost due to incorrect VAT accrual when buying a home,' Michaelides said.
The Auditor General also stressed that his office does not conduct an audit on a selective basis, every investor and their dependents who obtained Cypriot passports are carefully examined.
Among other things, we study all the records made by officials to identify all the problems and abuses. The audit takes place in the normal mode. We plan to submit a preliminary report by the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022, which, as stipulated by the procedures, will be sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for comments. Only after that, the Audit Office will issue a final report," Michaelides said.
The Auditor General also said that there was a delay of about one year regarding the investigation of illegal naturalizations.
Instead of September 2020, the department's employees were able to take up their duties only in August 2021. Michaelides expressed the opinion that, unfortunately, the Audit Office of Cyprus does not receive adequate support from the government of the island. He called on the authorities to stop undermining the authority of the Audit Office at every opportunity and to cooperate with it so that the institutional structures of supervision and control function properly in Cyprus.
As you may know, the investigation of the Golden Passports program began in September last year after a series of videos appeared in the media.
Despite the launch of the investigation, the government has so far strongly defended the program, stating that it benefits the economy. However, after Al Jazeera published a secret video in which the former head of the House of Representatives Dimitris Sillouris and a member of parliament from Akel Christakis Giovanis offered assistance to a fictitious Chinese businessman with a criminal past, the scandal flared up with renewed vigor.
Sillouris and Giovanis resigned, and Cyprus closed the program. Brussels was shocked by the highest political circles of Cyprus who were ready to help convicted criminals obtain citizenship, as well as provide them with access to the internal markets of the European Union and visa-free regime.
In October 2020, the European Commission launched an audit for compliance with the EU laws of the practice of Cyprus, when in exchange for investments in the economy, investors can obtain citizenship. The relevant notification was sent to the authorities of the country. Brussels gave Cyprus 2 months to explain.
Cyprus has appointed a high-profile Inquiry Committee. In parallel, the independent investigation was taken up by the country's Auditor General, who, for unknown reasons, was constantly being resisted. A series of public hearings were held on the island.
Finally, on June 22, the Inquiry Committee released the final report. The 780-page dossier has been significantly edited. For security reasons, the names and some personal data of investors were removed from it.
For a long time, the Audit Office was unable to launch an investigation, because it was not provided with the necessary files.
So in September 2020, Michaelides said that government ministries had deprived him of access to full data.
The International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) has repeatedly sent letters to Cypriot officials stating that it "shares the concern" of the Cyprus Audit Office about restrictions on access to documents. In recent months, government officials have repeatedly accused Michaelides of abuse of authority.
Only after the verification of the documents was completed by the Inquiry Committee, they agreed to provide the necessary information.