NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus is checking whether foreign investors who were granted a so-called “golden passport” met the scheme’s eligibility criteria, a Cypriot government official said Thursday.
Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said investors could lose their Cypriot passport if the investigation uncovers new information that renders them ineligible.
Cypriot passports have drawn wide interest, especially from wealthy individuals, because holders also become citizens of the European Union.
The EU issued a report in January warning Cyprus and other countries to beef up background checks before awarding the passports because of concerns people from outside the EU were acquiring them to launder money and flout tax laws.
The Cypriot Interior Ministry investigation will initially target a select number of “golden passport” recipients who recent media reports suggest shouldn’t have received the document.
Cyprus announced the probe following reports that senior Cambodian government officials and relatives of the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen received Cypriot passports.
Hun Sen’s four decades-long grip on power is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Prodromou said that apart from these individuals, the investigation will examine all other investors granted citizenship before eligibility rules and vetting procedures were first tightened last year. Even more stringent vetting — including a requirement that an investor holds a visa permitting him or her to travel within the EU — was enacted earlier this year.
The names of passport recipients will be run through an international database that could reveal potential misdeeds that earlier vetting may not have picked up.
The names of investors who where naturalized after 2018 are regularly checked by this database on a constant basis to ensure the information they provided on their application is above-board, Prodromou said.
Cypriot government officials have bristled at accusations that Cyprus was running a “passports-for-cash” scheme.
The program has generated approximately 7 billion euros ($7.78 billion) since its inception following a 2013 financial crisis that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy.
It requires that investors must put at least 2 million euros ($2.2 million) into real estate or a Cyprus-based business.