Cyprus MP quits in wake of passports-for-sale scandal

Christakis Giovanis announced his resignation after Cyprus said it would abolish its controversial citizenship through investment scheme [Al Jazeera]

A Cypriot MP who was implicated in selling passports to criminals has quit as the country races to stem the fallout following an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera.

Christakis Giovanis, also known in Cyprus as Giovani, resigned on Tuesday, hours after Cyprus announced it would abolish its controversial citizenship-through-investment scheme.

The moves follow Al Jazeera’s The Cyprus Papers Undercover investigation, which was broadcast on Monday and showed how Giovanis was willing to help a convicted money launderer obtain a passport, even though a criminal conviction should disqualify an applicant.

“I submit my resignation as AKEL MP. I also submit my resignation as a member of the central AKEL committee and all other positions in the party,” Giovani’s statement read.

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Also on Tuesday, Cypriot Attorney General George Savvidis announced an investigation into possible criminal offences.

“What has been published in the last few hours by the Al Jazeera news network is causing outrage, anger and concern among the people,” his statement read.

“I want to assure you that I will do whatever is deemed necessary under the circumstances, always with the aim of safeguarding the public interest.”

Earlier, Demetris Syllouris, president of the House of Representatives,  said he would abstain from duties until investigations were completed.

The Cyprus Papers Undercover also showed the willingness of Syllouris to aid and abet convicted criminals to obtain a passport through the Citizenship Investment Programme (CIP).

Citizenship through investment

Cyprus is one of a handful of European Union countries that grant investors passports if they invest a minimum of $2.5m, which in the real estate sector.

Both the European Union and anti-corruption NGOs criticise the programmes, saying their opaque structure could attract criminals seeking to launder their money.

The European Commission said on Tuesday it “watched in disbelief how high-level officials were trading European citizenship for financial gains.”

“The Commission is currently looking at compliance with EU law of the Cypriot scheme in view of possible infringement proceedings,” it added.

In August, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit revealed that over previous years, Cyprus had granted passports to criminals convicted in their home countries and people wanted by Interpol.

Those featured in the investigation, including Syllouris and Christakis, have all denied wrongdoing and referred to a report filed with Cyprus’s anti-money laundering unit.

They also said their dealings with our undercover journalists were intended to gather information to support a report to the authorities without “tipping them off”.

Source: Al Jazeera