Cyprus is suspending its controversial citizenship for investment programme following multiple reports of weaknesses and abuse of the system.
Cypriot government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said the suspension of the programme, in its current form, would take effect from November 1, the semi-official Cyprus News Agency reported on Tuesday.
He was speaking to journalists after an emergency session of the island’s cabinet.
Several high-ranking Cypriot officials, politicians, lawyers and real estate developers are implicated in a scheme that allows criminals to buy a European passport using the country’s citizenship through an investment programme, according to an Al Jazeera expose.
In The Cyprus Papers Undercover, Al Jazeera on Monday revealed how the country’s highest political ranks are willing to aid and abet convicted criminals to obtain Cypriot citizenship, granting the criminal access to the European Union’s internal markets and visa-free travel.
Among those are parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris and opposition Akel member of parliament, Christakis Giovanis, who is also one of the country’s largest real estate developers.
The revelation comes two months after Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit published The Cyprus Papers, a leak of 1,400 documents showing Cyprus regularly failed to adhere to its own laws and allowed convicted criminals and fugitives to obtain its citizenship.
Following the investigation, Cyprus defended the programme, saying there had been several mistakes in recent years but the tightening of laws and applicants’ background checks were sufficient to stop criminals from obtaining a passport.
Cyprus’s citizenship through investment programme grants a Cypriot passport to anyone who invests at least $2.5m in the country, often through real estate investments.
Since 2013, when the passport programme started, the country has made more than seven billion euros. The amount is used to keep the nation’s failing economy afloat.
Although legal, the programme has been criticised regularly by the European Union and anti-corruption NGOs, saying it has facilitated the laundering of stolen assets from Russia and beyond.