Cyprus to launch anti-graft reforms after passport scandal

Nicosia (AFP) –


Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said Thursday his government would announce major anti-graft reforms after it scrapped its controversial passport-for-investment scheme last year.

The Mediterranean island dropped the "golden passport" scheme in November after Al Jazeera aired a documentary showing reporters posing as fixers for a Chinese businessman seeking a Cypriot passport despite having a criminal record.

Parliament speaker Demetris Syllouris, who was secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate a passport for the fugitive investor, later resigned, although he insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Al Jazeera reported that dozens of those who applied were under criminal investigation, international sanctions or even serving prison sentences.

In a televised address on Thursday evening, Anastasiades said that measures to be announced tomorrow "constitute the greatest intervention ever in the Republic of Cyprus, to create the strongest possible protection network against corruption".

Nicosia had long faced pressure from Brussels to reform the scheme over concerns it may have helped organised crime gangs infiltrate the European Union.

Cyprus had argued it had attracted valuable investment following the Mediterranean island's 2013 economic crisis.

Cyprus issued thousands of passports under the scheme which allowed investors to acquire one in exchange for an investment of 2.5 million euros ($3 million), netting some seven billion euros for Nicosia's coffers over the years.

The programme was also dogged by money laundering allegations.

Anastasiades on Thursday rejected accusations that he personally had benefited from the scheme through his family's law firm, but he acknowledged that mistakes had been made.

"I do not overlook the existence of shortcomings and weaknesses in the scheme, mainly to do with oversight and surveillance," he said.

He said his government had repeatedly reformed the scheme between its launch in 2007 and its scrapping in November.

Cyprus is currently probing how passports were issued, to whom and under what circumstances.