By Sacha Perera
Earlier this week, two prominent Cypriot government officials resigned following the release of Al Jazeera’s The Cyprus Papers Uncovered, a documentary exposing a corrupt citizenship investment scheme which sold EU passports and protection to convicted criminals and fugitives from around the world.
Between 2017 and 2019, over 2,300 passports have been issued in the Cypriot citizen investment scheme called the “Golden Passport Program”. For a cool €2,200,000, Cyprus will provide you sanctuary and protection, along with the full rights that come with European Union citizenship; earning the Cypriot economy around $8 billion since 2013.
Such schemes are common enough. Here in the UK, we have a similar program. But unlike most other citizen investment schemes, there are, for the right price, ways of turning a blind eye to your past — clean or not.
What did the Al Jazeera investigation uncover?
Earlier this year a leak of confidential files lead to Al Jazeera uncovering the scandal. And in a documented undercover investigation released on Monday, the news outlet was able expose the investment scheme for what it had become: a get out of jail free card.
In line with European regulations, the terms and conditions of the citizenship application states that an applicant must have a clean criminal record, but the reporters who infiltrated and exposed the scheme did so on the false pretext that they were representing a rich, Chinese fugitive facing a seven year prison sentence for bribery and corruption.
Initially, the undercover reporters met with an English couple, Denise and Tony Kay, who run an estate agency business called Sold On Cyprus. With connections to the Cyprian parliament, they double as so-called “enablers”, helping those who invest in their property to get passports, irrespective of their backgrounds, and boast of a 100% success rate for hundreds of customers.
Their government contact Christakis Giovani, a member of the Cypriot house of representatives for nine years, abused both his position in parliament and his reputation as one of the largest property developers in the country in order to coordinate the scheme.
Passport causes resignations in government
The former MP who tendered his resignation from the AKEL (Progressive Party of Working People) on Tuesday, used his connections to influence the board of the Cyprus Investment Program, which includes representatives from the Interior and Finance ministries, as well as a government investment authority.
On Thursday of this week, the speaker of the house has also submitted his resignation, after he was identified as an employee of Giovani’s in Al Jazeera’s documentary The Cyprus Papers Undercover released onMonday this week.
After initially denying the allegations, claiming that Al Jazeera was conducting a propaganda campaign against the country, Cyprus has said it will abolish the controversial citizenship through investment program on November 1st.
In the wake of the documentary the European Commission has made its disbelief and position known, stating: “European values are not for sale,” whilst promising its own thorough investigation.
Al Jazeera’s work here is not only significant in the fight against corruption, but a testament to truth and the value of journalism supported by the ideal of a free and independent press.