Chronicles of the Cyprus Passport Saga. Part 15

Хроники кипрской саги о паспортах. Часть 15
27 January 2021 Liza Medvetskaya
3722

The investigation of a high-profile scandal of the "golden" passports issuance under the Citizenship by Investment program continues in Cyprus.

The Ad Hoc Committee opened a series of public hearings. Last Tuesday, January 19, former Treasury Secretary Harris Georgiades gave the first testimony.

This week, the Committee interrogated the current finance minister, Constantinos Petrides, who previously served as interior minister, and Archbishop Chrysostomos.

They told a lot of interesting things about the investment scheme and its participants.

In particular, Petrides stated that he has never been a supporter of the Cyprus Investment Program (KEP).

At the same time, he admitted that he contributed to the acceleration of the "golden" passports issuance in 27 cases, 18 of which concerned shareholders and managers of a world known company.

Petrides also talked about the gaps of the program and an increase in the number of applications fr om people at high risk in recent years. At the same time, the minister stressed that he was constantly under strong pressure, including from an unnamed member of the European Parliament.

Petrides acknowledged that KEP has partially destroyed “the excellent image that Cyprus has been building with great efforts and beneficial policies since 2013”.

According to Petrides, the credibility of Cyprus has been undermined because a number of fraudsters have been naturalized in the country, which has led to the international perception that Cyprus is selling its passports. All this together created a political and legal problem in relations between Cyprus and the EU.

Petrides stressed that when he took office as Minister of the Interior, he found many gaps and problematic aspects of the investment program. Most of the candidates for obtaining Cypriot citizenship were involved in corruption or various kinds of fraud, they belonged to the category of persons with a high level of risk, sanctions were applied to them in their countries like Iran, Syria, Afghanistan.

However, due to the fact that a whole "industry" was created in Cyprus to attract foreign investors, this made it very difficult for Petrides to remedy the violations.

There were very significant gaps of the program with regard to the mechanisms of due diligence on the part of the state, since, according to the minister, control was limited by the provision of a criminal record and the information exchange with the state security authorities before taking office. At the same time, he noted that even with a strong desire, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will never be able to control such structures, for example, as banks.

Petrides said that he made proposals to Parliament that made the more flexible rules approved by the Council of Ministers in 2019. But he faced serious objections from suppliers and developers.

He also pointed to the lack of proper Ministry of Finance control of the investment program and stated that in 2018, at his insistence, a decision was made to fully share responsibility between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Finance.

The Ministry of Finance not only issues opinions, but is also responsible for monitoring the financial criteria of the program, Petrides emphasized.

The minister also said that a huge number of providers insisted on speeding up the applications submission for consideration, since, in their opinion, there was great competition.

The industry created by the Cyprus Investment Program has benefited people from all over the political circle. After all, it is no secret to anyone that many deputies who have law firms or land companies were simultaneously associated with the services of obtaining Cypriot citizenship. Money flowed like a river, the minister noted.

Petrides mentioned that once he was asked for help in naturalizing a person who was on the EU sanctions list for the annexation of Crimea. And when he refused to help, he was called a de facto traitor who damages relations between Cyprus and Russia. In another case, he was required to naturalize a person who owned a casino in the occupied territories of Cyprus, and his name appeared in a cigarette smuggling case.

Petrides noted that he was repeatedly pressured by a former member of European Parliament, Members of Parliament of Cyprus, representatives of parties and well-known law firms as he rejected applications for citizenship. Moreover, one well-known lawyer threatened the minister that he would report his actions to the President of Cyprus.

In turn, Archbishop Chrysostomos, who was accused of involvement in the "golden" passport issuance to Malaysian financier Joe Lowe in 2015, said that he is not involved in this this case.

Chrysostomos noted that he saw Joe Lowe once, at a dinner in the archbishopric. The meeting lasted only 15 minutes, so the archbishop did not even have time to remember Low's faces. Chrysostomos stressed that he did not know at the time that Lowe was under investigation for financial crimes.

I met Mr. Lowe at lunch at the Archdiocese. He wanted to make a donation, but I refused. However, he insisted. Then I thanked Lowe for the donation and said that it would go to the Spiritual School. Later I found out that the donation amount was 300,000 euros, - Chrysostomos said during interrogation.

Chrysostomos said that around the same time, he sent a letter to then Minister of the Interior Sokrates Chasikos asking him to give Law special attention as a candidate for Cypriot citizenship. However, it later turned out that by the time the minister read his letter, Lowe had already been issued a Cyprus passport.

As you may know, Joe Lowe received a Cypriot passport under the Citizenship by Investment program in September 2015.

As an investment in the Cypriot economy, the Malaysian financier purchased an unfinished villa for five million euros in the Ayia Napa area. The internationally renowned company Henley & Partners provided legal services to the Malaysian businessman. It is worth noting that since the applicant must be present in Cyprus in person to go through the standard procedure for applying for citizenship in exchange for investment (collection of biometric data), in September 2015 Lowe had to fly to the island, wh ere he stayed for 2 days. After that, he was no longer heard of.

At that time, the Malaysian Attorney General's Office was already conducting an audit of his activities, according to which it turned out that he illegally withdrew more than $5 billion from the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Lowe nevertheless obtained Cypriot citizenship.

As the Cypriot authorities announced at the end of October that they had begun checking the previously issued "golden passports", the Bank of Cyprus, concerned about the deal to buy Joe Low's real estate on the island, conducted its own internal investigations. A month later, the bank submitted its report on Joe Low to the Anti-Money Laundering Unit (MOKAS). MOKAS submitted its findings to the Cyprus Ministry of the Interior in early 2016.

When Chrysostomos was asked how he got involved in Lowe's affair, the archbishop said it was because the villa, bought by the Malaysian as an investment, was built on church land.

Since the developer had no money for the title deed, he himself signed the guarantee for the archbishopric. The developer who sold Lowe's villa asked Chrysostomos to send a note to the Home Secretary to speed up the Malaysian's passport case. The letter was dated September 1, 2015.

If they gave him a passport quickly, then we would also receive our money, - said Chrysostomos.

When asked if Chrysostomos knew the investors, he replied that he knew only about Lowe. He received only one check from a Malaysian issued by Low, a Cyprus registered company. At the same time, the archbishop emphasized that he was never interested in Low's past. It was only from the media that I learned that he was carrying out monetary fraud.

I did not have the authority to request any information from government authorities about candidates for Cypriot citizenship. The only thing I did was send a request to the minister with a request to expedite the issuance of Low's passport, Chrysostomos said.

When asked if he knew about the concerns of the European Union about the investment program of Cyprus, Chrysostomos replied in the negative.

When asked about the value of the land that was sold to build a villa for Lowe, the archbishop said he was not a computer to remember everything. However, he later added that for several thousand euros.

However, Dimitra Kalogiru intervened here, who announced for the minutes that the deal was worth 500,000 euros.

We must add that in conclusion, the archbishop expressed bewilderment that he was summoned for interrogation.

Do you really think I took a bribe? - Chrysostomos was indignant.

Хроники кипрской саги о паспортах. Часть 15

We should note, that the work of the commission to investigate "golden" passports cases is going to continue on Thursday, January 28.

Testimonies are expected to be taken from the head of the Bar Association Christos Clerides and the director of Icpac (The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus) Kyriakos Jordanus.

And next week, the Commission will hear the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. Further, the Commission will publish an interim report, which is undoubtedly the most eagerly awaited by all residents of Cyprus.

Chronicles of the Cyprus Passport Saga:

Source: stockwatch.com.cy, cyprus-mail.com, politis.com.cy
Photos: pixabay.com, cyprus-mail
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