Cyprus speaker resigns over passports scandal
Nicosia (AFP) –
The speaker of the Cypriot parliament resigned on Thursday after he was secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate a passport for a fugitive investor.
Demetris Syllouris insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing but said he had decided to step down for the good of the office, after the corruption allegations broadcast by Al Jazeera tarnished Cyprus's image as a European Union member.
"I have not violated the law in any way, but my resignation removes any pretext that my presence in the office of speaker hinders in any way the smooth functioning of parliament," Syllouris said in his resignation letter.
Earlier this week, Syllouris had said he would only abstain from his duties from October 19, pending the results of a police investigation, but eventually gave in to mounting pressure for him to go.
He said people had taken political advantage of his initial desision not to resign.
"My decisions were based on the firm belief that I have not done anything legally wrong and that my possible resignation would leave the impression to the contrary," said Syllouris, who was elected to parliament on the ticket of the Solidarity Movement, a small, nationalist breakaway from the ruling conservative party.
On Tuesday, the government announced it will scrap its controversial "golden passports" scheme for foreign investors from next month over the alleged abuses uncovered by Al Jazeera.
The scheme -- which has generated seven billion euros ($8.25 billion) -- will be brought to an end on November 1, 2020.
The Qatar-based broadcaster aired an hour-long programme showing its reporters pretending to represent a Chinese businessman keen to acquire a Cypriot passport despite having a criminal record at home.
Lawmaker Christakis Giovanis, who was also secretly filmed in the Al Jazeera report, already resigned from parliament and the positions he held in the island's main opposition party, the communist AKEL.
Hundreds of people protested in the capital Nicosia on Wednesday, against the alleged corruption in public life highlighted by the passports expose.
Under the soon-to-be-scrapped scheme, the government grants a passport in exchange for an investment of 2.5 million euros ($3 million).
Even before Al Jazeera published its story, some 30 people had been referred for investigation to a special committee.
Last week, Cyprus said it was revoking seven passports for "false representation" by investors on their application.
The country is re-examining the cases of all roughly 4,000 people who successfully applied for a passport under the scheme.
© 2020 AFP