Opening statement by the Minister of the Interior, Mr Nicos Nouris, at a press conference on the Cyprus Investment Programme
During the last days we are witnessing an orchestrated attempt by the Al Jazeera network, which, having succeeded in getting hold of classified documents of the Republic of Cyprus, has launched an attack against our county through distortion, deception and sensationalism. Investigative journalism, which we respect, is one thing but propaganda is something altogether different, aiming by design to cause political and financial harm to the country.
From the beginning the Interior Ministry has been investigating all the information published by Al Jazeera.
Section on responses to the allegations of Al Jazeera
All the cases regarding a total of 117 names reported by the news agency have been scrutinized by the Interior Ministry’s Naturalization Unit.
All the persons referred to, the names of which we shall not mention for obvious reasons, satisfied the requirements of the CIP at the time of submitting their applications, being holders of a clean penal record from their country of origin as well as from their country of residence if different.
In addition, at the time of considering their applications, nothing was found against them during the checks by the competent state security services and also by Interpol.
What is identified here is a willful attempt at falsifying facts and data on the part of Al Jazeera.
In order to demonstrate that what Al Jazeera is doing is not investigative journalism but propaganda against Cyprus, in both these two categories the network fails to mention that the facts took place long after their naturalization and therefore could not have been taken into consideration in examining their applications.
All these three cases had already been investigated long before the Al Jazeera reports by an independent three-member committee, whose report will soon be placed for a decision before the Council of Ministers about what should be done.
In trying to prolong the publicity on this issue and with an obvious intent on the one hand to undermine the status and reliability of the Republic of Cyprus and harm the Cyprus economy on the other, Al Jazeera came back with a second report, which this time had to do with persons described as Politically Exposed.
The reason I refrain from mentioning any names is due to my respect for the legislation on the protection of personal data; I wish to clarify, however, that the House will be specifically briefed on all of these cases, on the basis of the detailed information it already receives.
Section on the control and rigorous procedures of the programme
At this point I would like to recall that it was under the Presidency of Nicos Anastasiades that the need was identified for stricter control on the applications by high risk or/and Politically Exposed Persons and thus we proceeded to enact and announce specific categories of persons who would no longer be able to acquire a naturalization right; such provisions did not exist before the enactment of the scheme in 2007 until May 2019 inclusive.
In addition to the checks carried out by the Interior Ministry, more effective control mechanisms were introduced in February 2019 by decision of the Council of Ministers, involving amongst other things the conclusion of a cooperation agreement with three internationally recognized firms, which undertake thorough and detailed scrutiny of all applications. They are KROLL, STERLING and SRM INTELLIGENCE, which are included in the best ten firms worldwide on issues of conducting due diligence investigations on dual nationality matters
I would like to remind you of yet another thing. The administration of Nicos Anastasiades inherited a scheme of granting Cypriot nationality for which no specific control framework existed even for Politically Exposed Persons, indeed of uncertain financial benefit for the Republic.
Therefore, the strengthening of supervision and control mechanisms for the system has been and still is a sine qua non for this administration.
Since 2013, both the criteria for the programme and the supervision and due diligence mechanisms evolved gradually yet decisively, resulting in the very important modifications of 2019, with the most significant being that of the recent enactment by the House of Representatives of the programme Regulations in July 2020.
The obligation of investors since 2014 to carry out their investments through the Cyprus Banking Institutions, the banning of transactions in cash, the exclusion of high-risk persons, the mandatory acquisition of a Schengen visa, the conduct of a due diligence control, as well as the interconnection of the programme with the money laundering Law are actions absolutely in line with the European directives as well as the Moneyval recommendations for the fight against corruption.
In addition, the setting up of an independent three-member Committee under the Chairman of the Cyprus Exchange Commission, to which the Council of Ministers has given clear terms of reference for the control not only of the 30 cases on which information and allegations have been published but also for the control of a total of roughly 4.000 naturalizations from 2007 to the present, indeed goes to prove the sincere intention of the government to pursue the protection and credibility of the Cyprus Investment Programme.
Leaving Al Jazeera aside, the checking of the 30 cases and the collective control of all naturalizations up until 2018 has been recently completed. The Council of Ministers having assessed information before it, decided in a recent meeting to revoce three nationality grants.
The question that arises and must be of concern both to the political leadership and to each citizen separately, is why Al Jazeera in the context of its alleged investigative journalism did not choose respective naturalization programmes operating in a number of countries, such as Turkey, Malta, Bulgaria, United Kingdom and elsewhere. Indicatively I would like to state that the number of persons, who have received Cypriot nationality in 2018 in the context of the Cyprus Investment Programme, reached 1.100 persons, while the respective total number in the European Union in the same period rose to 850.000.
It grieves me to have to refer to those at home who hasten to criticize the government in order to gain fleeting points either in view of the parliamentary elections or for other reasons, disregarding the damage caused to Cyprus; we call on them to reflect on their public statements which are harmful to a programme that which has contributed significantly to the recovery of the economy during the difficult period of the austerity programme, and to the decrease in unemployment and the non-performing loans. And they are hurting it at a time when the economy of our country, on account of the pandemic, needs every possible support, including the support of social grants in the sectors of housing, innovation and technology, sectors to which the inventors are obliged to contribute a total amount of 200.000 euros.
The political parties should stop hiding behind their little finger. They should either ask honestly and clearly for the programme to be interrupted, something which they could have done during the recent debate and voting of the regulations, or reinforce the collective effort to safeguard the status of the Republic of Cyprus against the polemic it faces.
We would not be a constituted state if the mass leakages of such a large number of classified state documents did not worry us. It is claimed at the home front that those who leaked them are serving the well-perceived public interest. Whoever leaks classified documents, indeed to manipulated foreign centres, cannot portray himself/herself as the defender of the public interest of his country.
Anyone with the public interest at heart, could have served it by acting properly through the procedures defined by the constitution.
Instructions have already been issued and control processes are under way in all of the services involved concerning the handling and circulation of the specific documents.
The government will await the findings of these investigations.
However, we cannot let go without comment the fact that the parties and deputies who, taking advantage of the network reports, hasten to level severe criticism against the government, culminating in some of them saying that they are ashamed about the sorry state of their country. They are the same ones who received and are still receiving all the detailed information about the naturalizations from the Interior Ministry and who had the opportunity to table the issues of concern to them for discussion in the competent Parliamentary Committees.
Instead, we unfortunately see the documents that Al Jazeera has published circulating with the stamp of the Cyprus House of Representatives on them.
At a time when Cyprus is under threat and is waging an important political battle against the expansionist designs of Turkey.
At a time when our country is threatened by the targeted and organized demographic change with guided immigration flows, the state news network Al Jazeera, based in a country known for its pro-Turkish positions and which only recently supported Turkey’s economy with 15 billion, attempts to strike at the Republic of Cyprus with distorted and misleading information.
For us the attempt is all too clear to hurt Cyprus shortly before the important Meeting of the European Council, which will be called upon to decide on issues of immigration and granting of European citizenship.
Having in mind the protection of the rights of all those whose names have been published, as well as the recommendations of the Commissioner for the Protection of Personal Data, the Interior Ministry responds specifically and with supporting evidence to all that has been published.
In reserving the rights of the Republic of Cyprus, the government wants to stress most categorically that it will not take part in the game of propaganda and the undermining of our country.
Having in mind the well-perceived interest of our country, the government will continue to safeguard the CIP for the sake of its demonstrated benefits to the country.
( DC )
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