Cypriot parliament speaker quits after passport scheme scandal

Demetris Syllouris was one of the two politicians implicated in Al Jazeera’s investigation into a passports-for-sale scheme.

Demetris Syllouris, the Cypriot parliament speaker, has announced he will resign after he was implicated in a scheme that sold passports to criminals through the country’s citizenship through investment programme.

Syllouris was filmed as part of Al Jazeera’s The Cyprus Papers Undercover, an investigation which revealed how criminals were able to obtain Cypriot passports, granting them access to the European Union and its internal markets.

“I note that my continued presence in the position of Head of Parliament has been misunderstood,” Syllouris said in a statement.

“This misunderstanding, and the evident desire by some to take advantage of the whole issue for their own political aims and plans, as well as the pretexts concerning a malfunctioning of the Law making body, have led me to the decision to submit my resignation both from the position of Head of Parliament as well as of member of the parliament,” he continued, adding that he maintained the belief that he had done nothing wrong.

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His resignation follows Christakis Giovanis, also known in Cyprus as Giovani, who quit on Tuesday, hours after Cyprus announced it would abolish its controversial scheme.

In Al Jazeera’s film, which was broadcast on Monday, Syllouris, Giovanis, lawyer Andreas Pittadjis and real estate developers Tony and Denise Kay told our undercover reporter that if enough money was invested, a convicted Chinese businessman would be able to get a passport.

Our reporter had been pretending to represent that fictitious businessman.

However, under Cypriot law, anyone who is convicted of a crime would be disqualified from obtaining a passport.

Syllouris and Giovani said they would do everything in their power to help, with Syllouris telling our reporter: “You can tell him that he will have, without mentioning my name or anybody else’s, full support from Cyprus. At any level – political, economic, social, everything – ok.”

After Cyprus suspended the citizenship through investment scheme, which has provided the country $8bn since its start in 2013, the attorney general announced an investigation into the scheme.

Weeks earlier, Al Jazeera released The Cyprus Papers, a cache of almost 1,400 documents showing Cyprus had granted passports to criminals convicted in their home countries and people wanted by Interpol in the previous years.

Calls for resignation

Syllouris’s resignation comes the morning after protesters gathered in front of the parliament building in Nicosia, calling for his removal from office and an official investigation.

Initially, Syllouris said he would abstain from his duties starting October 19, but eventually buckled under growing pressure from protesters, people within his own party and the opposition.

There was also pressure from outside the country, mainly from the EU, which has for years been critical of Cyprus, and other EU countries.

After Al Jazeera’s revelations on Monday, the European Commission said in a statement it had watched the revelations in disbelief.

“President [Ursula] von der Leyen was clear when saying that European values are not for sale,” the Commission said.

“The Commission has frequently raised its serious concerns about investor citizenship schemes, also directly with the Cypriot authorities. The Commission is currently looking at compliance with EU law of the Cypriot scheme in view of possible infringement proceedings.

“We are aware of the latest declarations of the government and expect the Cypriot competent authorities to thoroughly look into this case.”

Following Al Jazeera’s investigation, Syllouris, Giovanis, Pittadjis and Tony and Denise Kay all defended their actions, saying they had not broken the law and that they were only fishing for information to later be handed over to Cyprus’s anti-money laundering unit.

Source: Al Jazeera