Passports for Sale: Cyprus Slammed For Granting ‚Golden Passports‘ to Criminals and Fraudsters

Written by | Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

A major leak of confidential Cypriot government documents has revealed that Cyprus passport scheme allowed political figures ‘vulnerable to corruption’ to buy EU citizenship. The so-called Cyprus Papers show that dozens of high-level officials and their families bought so-called “golden passports”, worth a minimum investment of $2.5m each, from Cyprus between late 2017 and late 2019. These individuals included elected politicians of several countries, board members of state enterprises and the brother of a former Lebanese Prime Minister. These officials, known as politically exposed persons (PEPs), are internationally recognised as a category of individuals who are at higher risk of corruption because they or their family members hold some form of government position.
Following the revelation on Sunday that Cyprus sold passports to convicted criminals and fugitives from the law, the Cypriot Ministry of Interior released a statement saying it is reviewing this information published by Al Jazeera, adding that it has already made substantial changes to the investment scheme in recent years. Among the PEPs who bought a passport is Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament and a former general who later became a wealthy businessman handling fuel and transport contracts between the Afghan government and the US military. Two other officials who bought golden passports are Russian national Igor Reva, once a deputy minister for economic development, and Pham Phu Quoc, who represents Ho Chi Minh City in the Vietnamese Congress.
PEPs like Quok, Reva and Rahmani often hold keys to vast sums of taxpayer money, as senior policy officer Laure Brillaud from anti-corruption NGO Transparency International points out. “They have access to public resources, they can be sitting on a government contract and be in a position to make decisions, so it presents a high financial risk they are being corrupted or corrupting others,” Brillaud says. A Cypriot „golden passport“ is a coveted possession in many countries as it grants access to free travel, work and banking across the European Union, which has repeatedly slammed Cyprus several times for its controversial program, denouncing it as being a security risk. Brussels has regarded Cyprus as a back door into the rest of the EU for politically influential people from potentially hostile states. Under pressure from the EU, Cyprus changed its rules in 2019, but the so-called Cyprus Papers show that many PEPs had already secured their place as Cypriot citizens before the rule change came into force.

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