Cyprus is at the centre of controversy surrounding the issuing of EU passports to wealthy foreigners, reports Emma Beswick
According to UK newspaper, The Guardian, Cyprus received over 4 billion euros since 2013 by granting “golden visas” to the super rich, in exchange for cash.
Applicants have to invest 2 million euros in property, or 2.5 million euros in companies or government bonds, to benefit from the scheme. There are no language requirements, and the only residency requirement is a single visit once every seven years.
Prominent businesspeople from Russia and Ukraine are purportedly amongst those who have acquired Cypriot citizenship, and therefore EU citizenship, by investing millions in the country.
Some 400 individuals have benefitted from the “golden visa” scheme including Ukrainian elites accused of corruption, according to The Guardian, which claims to have accessed a leaked list containing hundreds of names of those involved.
The British newspaper says that among the names are “prominent businesspeople and individuals with considerable political influence” including “a former member of Russia’s parliament, the founder of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire”.
According to the Cypriot Interior Ministry’s website those wishing to obtain a citizenship via the “Scheme for Naturalization of Investors in Cyprus by Exception” can do so by investing €2.5 million in the country via real estate, business and government bonds.
The applicant must also have a “clean criminal record and “his name must not be included in the list of persons whose assets, within the boundaries of the European Union, have been frozen as the result of sanctions”.
The scheme, which came into being in 2013 and was revised in 2016, aims to “attract high net worth individuals to settle and do business in Cyprus”, according to the website.
Global Witness, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to expose corruption, said tougher checks need to be put in place in light of the findings.
“All countries offering golden visas must make sure the lure of investment doesn’t mean a race to the bottom on values. That means ensuring the sharpest of checks on applicants and safeguards in the process,” the group said in a statement.
Cyprus’ Ministry of Finance said that stringent checks were carried out on all applications for citizenship by investment and that all funds used underwent checks for money laundering by a Cypriot bank.
The European Commission recently set up an inquiry into whether checks were being properly conducted and the European Parliament will this year debate a possible amendment requiring tighter security checks on those applying for “golden visas”.