Cyprus 'sells' citizenship to Russia and Ukraine's super-wealthy

Prominent businesspeople from Russia and Ukraine are purportedly amongst those who have acquired Cypriot citizenship, and therefore EU citizenship, by investing millions in the country.

Some 400 individuals have benefitted from the “golden visa” scheme including Ukrainian elites accused of corruption, according to the Guardian, which claims to have accessed a leaked list containing hundreds of names of those involved.

The British newspaper says that among the names are “prominent businesspeople and individuals with considerable political influence” including “a former member of Russia’s parliament, the founders of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire”.

It also says that the Cypriot government has made over €4 billion with the scheme since 2013.

According to the Cypriot Interior Ministry’s website those wishing to obtain a citizenship via the “Scheme for Naturalization of Investors in Cyprus by Exception” can do so by investing €2.5 million in the country via real estate, business and government bonds.

The applicant must also have a “clean criminal record and “his name must not be included in the list of persons whose assets, within the

boundaries of the European Union, have been frozen as the result of sanctions”.

The scheme, which came into play in 2013 and was revised in 2016, aims to “attract high net worth individuals to settle and do business in Cyprus”, according to the website.

Before 2013 a less-formal arrangement was in place which saw Cypriot citizenship granted on a discretionary basis by ministers.

Beneficiaries of pre-2013 schemes include Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian businessman, investor, and philanthropist, and Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who later had his citizenship revoked after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and being sanctioned by the EU.

Global Witness, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to expose corruption, said tougher checks need to be put in place in light of the findings.

“All countries offering golden visas must make sure the lure of investment doesn’t mean a race to the bottom on values. That means ensuring the sharpest of checks on applicants and safeguards in the process,” the group said in a statement.

Cyprus’ Ministry of Finance said that stringent checks were carried out on all applications for citizenship by investment and that all funds used underwent checks for money laundering by a Cypriot bank.

The European Commission recently set up an inquiry into whether checks were being properly conducted and the European Parliament will this year debate a possible amendment requiring tighter security checks on those applying for “golden visas”.
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