The Cyprus Investment Program, following the recent information published by the Al Jazeera news network, was discussed on Monday before the Parliamentary Committee on Internal Affairs, during a long session, which was also attended by the Minister of Interior, Nikos Nouris.
The discussion was an ex-officio examination following a proposal by MPs Giorgos Loukaidis, Giorgos T. Georgiou, Evanthias Savvas and Giorgos Perdikis. The Committee also discussed the Ministry of Interior's refusal to submit the relevant files and comments on the Auditor General's draft report regarding the investment program of exceptional naturalizations. It is noted that the second issue was an ex-officio examination following a proposal by MPs Panikos Leonidos and Pavlos Mylonas.
The Committee was also attended by the Auditor General, and representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Cyprus Police, and the Anti-Concealment Unit.
Within the Committee, the Minister answered the members' many questions and the Auditor General's remarks. He said that after the announcements of Al Jazeera, the Ministry checked again within 72 hours and the 117 names that were mentioned and responded immediately and with data indicating the distortion made by the network. "It is one thing to say that citizenship has been granted to someone who should not take it and another to hide and say that what he meant is that later, six months later, in one of the cases, one of the applicants was accused," he said.
He reminded that at the time of submitting the applications, all the applicants whose names were made public met the criteria of the given moment, "otherwise if any of them if they applied today, could not be naturalized because the criteria are different today."
He said the program evolved from 2007, which had no criteria while today there are stringent criteria.
He said that the research committee would investigate not in fragments but ordered to study from 2007 to 17 August 2020 (date of publication of the new legislation). Everything that has been done during this period, the criteria, the naturalization conditions, etc.
He said that the Auditor general requested specific files and the Ministry asked an opinion from the Legal Adviser, the Attorney General, who replied that "no data, file, file or document held by the Ministry should be given anywhere."
"There was no refusal from us to provide a document to the Auditor, for whom there is much appreciation for the work he does," said Mr. Nouris, adding that all this material is already in possession of the police authorities for its purposes research.
He noted that the Parliament receives the same information as the Council of Ministers at the stage of submitting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposal for naturalizations, so at any time and especially, the Interior Committee had the opportunity to register all these concerns and discuss.
The Minister rejected statements that the program was relaxed, saying that from 2013 onwards, we have a gradual evolution of a program that now began to tighten the criteria.
He also said that at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Interior would make a presentation on the findings of the report of the Ad Hoc Three-Member Committee of Kalogiros.
He said that for 23 applications, the audit service was found. Those instructions for acceleration were given and assured that there was a discount in the procedures for none of these applications, saying that they were accelerated because they concerned large investments that had to do with the place's well-understood interest.
He said that he does not think the investor would come to the country and said that from 2018 due diligence checks are not made only for the investor but also for the family members.
Mr. Nouris said that he believes that he gave clear answers within the Commission to all the questions. Also, he added that it exists, and want to hope that all program will respect this, compliance with the new legislation and regulations on matters of procedure and control, and on the other hand, let the investigative Committee issue its conclusion with those that will be dealt with. "
The Auditor general referred to his Office's report on the audit of the granting of Cypriot citizenship under the Cyprus Investment Program.
The report states that it appears of 1,597 applications submitted after 21.5.2018. Nine hundred seventeen were approved, ie a percentage of 57.4%. Pending - 635, ie 39.8%, 35 were rejected (2.2%), and ten were withdrawn (0.6%). In 91 of the pending cases, money laundering notes, forged documents, high-risk applicants (RDPs, etc.), possible criminal cases, and questionable income sources have been registered by the officials handling the spreadsheets. , fraud, tax evasion, bribery, allegations of forgery, penalties in countries of origin, inclusion in the Panama Papers, etc.
Regarding the Ministry of Interior's refusal to deliver relevant files, he said that his Office could study copies of these files and not the files themselves.
He added that it was unprecedented that when the Office asked the Population Archive to conduct a fund audit to collect the amount required for naturalization, they were denied access, citing the Attorney General and the fact that an investigative committee has been appointed.
He described as unfair the Ministry of Foreign Affairs's report that the report of the Audit Office is selective, saying that we took the five high-risk files that were the files of Al Jazeera and then asked for 15 files that were all for the period after May 2018. He said we wanted to see when the criteria became stricter if the procedures were better, but the Ministry of Interior refused to give us the 15 files. He went on to say that our service could not be blamed for selective publication and noted that we believe we did the best we could even with the obstacles that existed.
Mr. Michailidis said that the discussion confirms the usefulness and correctness of his service's findings despite the obstacles with the non-provision of data and the non-commentary of the service's results by the Ministry of Interior.
He said the agency would repeat a new audit at the end of 2021, looking at how to implement the new regulations passed two months ago.
He added that we also explained to the Commission that the Supreme Court under the constitution has jurisdiction to resolve any dispute between the Republic authorities in the event of a dispute over the powers and competencies. In this case, he said, the Government has not claimed that our service has no control over the matter. He said that the Attorney General "which we respect" that with the Commission of inquiry appointment, the data should be handed over to this Commission, not to our service. We disagree with this position, he said, but we respect it. He concluded by saying that this does not create a basis for referring the matter to the Supreme Court.
It is noted that the Committee on Home Affairs requested further clarifications from the representatives of the police, MOKAS, and the Ministry of Finance.