NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus’ government has started procedures to revoke citizenship granted to 39 foreign nationals and six of their family members under the east Mediterranean island nation’s canceled investment-for-passports program, an official said Friday.
The Council of Ministers decided to overturn an earlier decision to grant citizenship to one foreign investor and a “dependent family member,” government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos said in a written statement.
No additional information was given on the identities of those who would lose citizenship.
The council would also investigate six additional cases to determine whether to proceed with revocation of citizenship and “continuously monitor” another 47 cases. Pelekanos said the European Union’s executive branch would be notified.
The decision comes on the recommendation of an independent commission that probed the program after it was scrapped last year when an undercover TV report showed the parliamentary speaker and a powerful lawmaker claiming that they could skirt the rules to grant citizenships.
They had made the pledge to a reporter posing as a representative of a fictitious Chinese investor who had been convicted of fraud in his country. Both resigned shortly after the report was aired.
In its final conclusions issued earlier this year, the commission found that the Cyprus government continued for at least four years to unlawfully issue passports to relatives of wealthy investors under the program, despite two separate warnings by the attorney general that this could be in breach of the law.
Over its 13-year run, the program granted 6,779 citizenships — more than half of which to investors’ family members.
Commission head and former Supreme Court President Myron Nicolatos said the program operated throughout its lifetime “without a legal framework and almost without a regulatory framework,” while there was no “adequate supervision regarding existing laws and regulations.”
The EU had also taken Cyprus to task over the program, which started in 2008 but was ramped up in 2013 following a financial crisis. It generated more than 8 billion euros (almost $10 billion) and proved particularly attractive to foreign investors because obtaining an EU passport allowed them access to the 27-member bloc.
The revelations hobbled Cyprus’ reputation amid accusations of endemic corruption and stung the government of President Nicos Anastasiades which had vociferously defended the program.