Cyprus has started procedures to revoke citizenship granted to 39 foreign nationals and six of their family members under its cancelled investment-for-passports programme.
A government statement said the Council of Ministers decided to overturn an earlier decision to grant citizenship to one foreign investor and a “dependent family member”.
No additional information was given on the identities of those who would lose citizenship. The council is to investigate six additional cases and is monitoring another 47 cases.
The European Commission will be notified, the government says. The EU has taken the east Mediterranean island nation to task over the programme, which started in 2008 but was ramped up in 2013 following a financial crisis.
The scheme generated more than €8 billion and proved particularly attractive to foreign investors because obtaining an EU passport allowed them access to the 27-member bloc.
The decision to revoke citizenships comes on the recommendation of an independent commission, which investigated the programme after it was scrapped last year. This followed an undercover TV report which showed the parliamentary speaker and a powerful lawmaker claiming that they could skirt the rules to grant citizenships.
They had made the pledge to a reporter posing as a representative of a fictitious Chinese investor who had been convicted of fraud in his country. Both resigned shortly after the report was aired.
In its final conclusions earlier this year, the commission found that the Cyprus government continued to unlawfully issue passports unlawfully to relatives of wealthy investors for at least four years under the programme, despite two separate warnings by the attorney general that this could be in breach of the law.
Over its 13-year run, the programme granted 6,779 citizenships — more than half of them to investors’ family members.
Commission head and former Supreme Court President Myron Nicolatos said the programme operated throughout its lifetime “without a legal framework and almost without a regulatory framework,” while there was no “adequate supervision regarding existing laws and regulations.”
The revelations hobbled Cyprus’ reputation amid accusations of endemic corruption and stung the government of President Nicos Anastasiades which had vociferously defended the programme.