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Financial crime and Russian oligarchs: How Cyprus vows to crackdown

Cypriot president Christodoulides has began hiring experts to look into possible allegations of Russian sanction evasion in the country
Cypriot president Christodoulides has began hiring experts to look into possible allegations of Russian sanction evasion in the country Copyright Petros Karadjias/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Petros Karadjias/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Greta RuffinoAP
Published on Updated
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The Cypriot president has reached out to an unnamed 'third country' to help with investigations into alleged evasions of sanctions against Russia by oligarchs.

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Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides revealed in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday that he personally reached out to an unnamed 'third country' seeking assistance in investigating allegations that Cypriot financial service providers aided Russian oligarchs in evading international sanctions.

The president emphasised his commitment to ensuring 'absolutely no shadows' cast over Cyprus, highlighting the potential impact on the country's efforts to attract quality foreign investment.

The president disclosed that multiple probes into alleged sanction evasions are currently underway, although specific details were not provided. 

The requested assistance has been accepted and a team of foreign experts are set to collaborate with seven police investigators in examining old and new media reports.

These reports allege that Cyprus-based lawyers and accountants facilitated the movement of Russian oligarchs' funds through a complex network of companies and trusts to circumvent sanctions related to Russia's conflict in Ukraine.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published several stories last week, citing leaked documents that purportedly reveal the involvement of Cypriot firms in helping Russian oligarchs evade sanctions.

'Zero tolerance for corruption'

President Christodoulides underscored that the foreign experts would not only assist in improving the investigative process but also expedite it to demonstrate Cyprus' "zero tolerance for corruption." 

This measure aims to bolster domestic confidence in the justice system and protect the country's reputation.

A pivotal aspect of the president's strategy to restore Cyprus' image involves the establishment of a Single Supervisory Authority — an independent body of financial crime experts tasked with combating financial malfeasance and sanction evasion. 

A draft law for this initiative has been prepared for parliamentary debate and approval.

Trying to rebrand for private investment

To further strengthen the police's financial crimes unit, President Christodoulides announced plans to hire additional experts with legal or accounting backgrounds. He defended Cyprus' efforts to reform its banking sector since the 2013 financial crisis, acknowledging the need for time to rebrand the country as a prime investment opportunity.

The president expressed his firm stance against any allegations tarnishing Cyprus' name, emphasising their detrimental impact on attracting private investment. 

Despite challenges, Christodoulides noted that countries from the wider Middle East have displayed interest in investing in Cyprus, particularly in energy, health services, education, and information technology.

In the same interview, the Cypriot president addressed the proposal for a humanitarian corridor to Gaza and revealed that UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, would soon notify the Cypriot government of his new choice for an envoy to explore the possibility of resuming talks to reunify the ethnically divided country, which has been in a stalemate since 2017.

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