High-profile Cambodian government figures and the fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho are due to lose their secretly acquired Republic of Cyprus passports.
Cyprus says it has started a process to remove citizenship from 26 non-native citizens which they bought under a secretive passports-for-investment policy.
The Greek-Cypriot administration on the divided island last month was embarrassed by the publication of a list of Cambodian beneficiaries, including Phnom Penh’s police chief and finance minister.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously denied opposition claims that his cronies and associates had foreign passports.
Almost 2,000 foreigners have taken advantage of the Cypriot scheme, which was launched in 2013 in the wake of Cyprus’ financial crisis. The programme attracted about €7 billion from applicants.
Some observers said the scheme offered a back door for unrestricted EU travel and freedom of labour for people who might otherwise be denied entry to the affluent bloc.
The fugitive Low, who is accused of stealing from Malaysia’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state wealth fund, is among those who are due to be stripped of his Cypriot citizenship.
His whereabouts are unknown although he was recently rumoured to be in the UEA or another West Asian state.
Low received his Cypriot passport in 2015, according to Politis, after Malaysia revoked his passport and issued an arrest warrant.
The US Department of Justice has said Low and his collaborators stole US$4.5 billion from 1MDB, which was set up in 2009 by then prime minister, Najib Razak, who is currently on trial in Kuala Lumpur.
Campaigners say the programmes’ guarantee of anonymity is a flaw and are calling for the European Union to introduce tighter regulations.
“As countless investigations have shown ‘golden visa’ schemes are favoured by those with something to hide,” said Tina Mlinaric of Global Witness, an anti-graft organisation. “Adding anonymity on top of the ability to buy citizenship, with few questions asked, only makes it easier for the criminal and corrupt to get away with their crimes and enjoy safe haven with their ill-gotten gains.”
Pamphlets resembling Cyprus passports used to be available to visitors at the main Cypriot airport.
In the first five years of the citizenship programme until last year, Cyprus approved 1,864 citizenship applications. When family members are included, the number was more than 3,200 and currently approaches 4,000.
Mediterranean Cyprus has always attracted tourists. Picture credit: Wikimedia