The Cyprus Employers Federation (OEB) and Cyprus Developers Association on Friday strongly condemned rising criticism both at home and abroad against the Mediterranean island’s popular citizenship by investment scheme.
“This scheme has, amongst other, contributed substantially to the creation of thousands of jobs in various sectors of the economy over the recent past years, that’s why we call on all involved in this public dialogue to lower their criticism level,” OEB said in a statement.
The Developers’ statement went a step further warning that “attacking the scheme constitutes an attack on the credibility of our country and puts at risk everything we have achieved with perseverance and collective effort over the recent past years. Shielding this programme is what we should all do.”
Their angry response came one day after the government announced they would carry out investigations into cases of people who were granted passports under the scheme before criteria were reviewed and made stricter.
This was in response to a Reuters report published last week revealing that family members and allies of long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and have used their wealth to buy foreign citizenship.
The official probe in Cyprus will review citizenship granted to eight relatives and persons close to Hun Sen.
Nicosia has had a citizenship for investment plan in place since 2013, under which a minimum 2-million-euro investment can buy a passport and visa-free travel throughout the European Union.
Eight relatives or allies of Hun Sen – including Cambodia’s police chief, who has been instrumental in clamping down on dissent, and its finance minister – sought Cypriot citizenship in 2016 and 2017, Reuters reporting showed.
Reuters’ disclosures triggered demands from Cypriot opposition parties for answers from authorities, with the AKEL main opposition party questioning how passports could be given to individuals “who probably couldn’t find Cyprus on the map”.
Opposition parties have again slammed the government’s intentions on this controversial issue considering that the Interior Minister has been asked to carry out the probe even though it is this specific Ministry that grants out citizenships.
The opposition has asked how the government could investigate itself objectively.
“Cyprus became an international laughing stock and no investigation will remove the stain from our island,” the Greens and Citizens Alliance said in a statement.
AKEL said: “Do they feel any shame or responsibility for the international embarrassment of the country?”
In the five years between the inception of the citizenship scheme and 2018, the Cypriot government approved 1,864 citizenship applications. Including family members, the number was more than 3,200.
The European Commission warned in a January report that what it called “golden passports” could help organised crime groups infiltrate Europe and raised the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.