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Cyprus cancels controversial 'golden passport' programme

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FILE - This Friday, July 6, 2018 file photo, shows the Oval building, left, one of a number of new high-rises transforming the skyline view in Limassol, Cyprus.
FILE - This Friday, July 6, 2018 file photo, shows the Oval building, left, one of a number of new high-rises transforming the skyline view in Limassol, Cyprus.   -   Copyright  Petros Karadjias/AP Photo, FILE
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Cyprus will scrap its controversial "golden passport" scheme that granted citizenship and a European Union passport to those willing to pay.

The lucrative programme allowed wealthy non-Europeans to get a passport for a minimum of €2.15 million by investing €2 million in real estate and donating €75,000 to the government's research and development fund, and €75,000 to the country's Land Development Organisation.

"No other European golden visa program guarantees such assured results offering an EU second passport in just two to three months," the official website states.

The programme's cancellation comes after an investigation by Al Jazeera revealed that Cypriot officials were selling the passports to a Chinese businessman with a reported criminal record.

Officials who surfaced in hidden camera footage by Al Jazeera included Parliamentary President Demetris Syllouris who has stepped down from his duties pending an investigation. MP Christakis Giovanis has also stepped down since the investigation aired on Monday.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hosted a Council of Ministers meeting on Tuesday during which government finance and interior ministers submitted a proposal to abolish the scheme.

Government Spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said the "proposal was based on the longterm weaknesses, as well as the abusive exploitation of the provisions of the Cyprus Investment Programme."

The scheme will be cancelled by November 1. Cyprus' attorney general is also conducting an investigation into the programme.

"We watched in disbelief how high-level officials were trading European citizenship for financial gains," said EU Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand at a press briefing. He added that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen "was clear when saying European values are not for sale."

"The Commission is currently looking into compliance with EU law of the Cypriot scheme in view of possible infringement proceedings," Wigand said.

Watch the Euronews Tonight report in the video player above.