NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The government of Cyprus has stripped 222 wealthy investors and their family members of citizenship, an official said Wednesday, part of efforts to mend a reputation sullied by an investment-for-passports program that an inquiry found had unlawfully granted citizenships in hundreds of instances.
Deputy government spokeswoman Niovi Parisinou said the figure includes 63 investors and 159 of their relatives, including spouses, children and parents.
Over its 13-year run, the once lucrative and now-defunct program repeatedly broke its own rules and granted Cypriot passports to ineligible investors. Some allegedly committed criminal and other offenses while becoming citizens of the Mediterranean island nation.
A torrent of corruption accusations followed an undercover TV report in 2020 that allegedly showed the parliamentary speaker and a powerful lawmaker claiming they could skirt the rules to grant citizenship to a fictitious Chinese investor supposedly convicted of fraud in his country.
The Cypriot government strongly denied any corruption but acknowledged “errors, loopholes and oversights" in how the program was run. Embarrassment as information about the program reverberated among Cyprus' fellow European Union members prompted the government to scrap it.
The passport program generated more than 9 billion euros ($8.7 billion) for the country as it reeled from a 2013 financial crisis that brought it to the verge of bankruptcy and led its second-largest bank to shut down.
The program proved particularly attractive to foreign investors because obtaining an EU passport allowed them access to the entire bloc. Hundreds of passports were issued to wealthy Russians.
An independent commission that investigated the program found that it operated “with blanks and omissions, without a legal framework and almost without a regulatory framework.”
The four-member commission said over half of the 6,779 passports issued may have been granted improperly to investors’ dependents or top company executives because there were no laws authorizing such cases. A third of the remainder were granted to investors who failed to meet all the required criteria, it said.
The commission recommended citizenship revocation in 85 cases in which the applicants may have committed criminal or other offenses to secure a passport.