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Cyprus sold passports to criminals, corrupt politicians for $2.5 million

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Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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A huge leak of confidential Cypriot government documents obtained by Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit called The Cyprus Papers reveals that dozens of high-level officials and their families bought so-called "golden passports" from Cyprus between late 2017 and late 2019, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Among those who bought the passports, worth a minimum investment of $2.5m each, were elected politicians of several countries, board members of state enterprises and the brother of a former Lebanese Prime Minister, according to Al Jazeera.

These officials, known as Politically Exposed Ppersons (PEPs), are internationally recognized as a category of individuals who are at higher risk of corruption because they or their family members hold some form of government position, the report said.

Among the 2,500 names that appear on the leaked documents, there are dozens of individuals who anti-corruption campaigners say should not have been granted Cypriot citizenship, or who could be stripped of their Cypriot citizenship because of criminal activity following the granting of their passports, Al Jazeera said adding:

"Citizenship applications came from all over the world, more than 70 countries in total. The countries with the highest numbers of applicants were Russia (1,000), China (500) and Ukraine (100). However, there were also people from the United Kingdom and the US, Mali, Morocco, Israel, Palestine, South Africa, South Korea, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia."

Who is on the Cyprus Papers

One of the people who bought a passport is Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of Afghanistan's Lower House of Parliament, who not only bought Cypriot citizenship for himself, his wife and three daughters, but also provided the family passports for St. Kitts and Nevis, one of several Caribbean states who sell citizenship, the paper said.

Rahmani is a former general who became a highly successful businessman handling fuel and transport contracts between the Afghan government and the US military. His election as speaker of the House provoked fighting on the floor of the House as opponents claimed vote-rigging.

Two other officials who bought golden passports are Pham Phu Quoc, who represents Ho Chi Minh City in the Vietnamese Congress, and Russian national Igor Reva, once a deputy minister for economic development.

PEPs like Rahmani, Quok and Reva often hold keys to vast sums of taxpayer money, senior policy officer Laure Brillaud from anti-corruption NGO Transparency International told Al Jazeera.

"They have access to public resources, they can be sitting on a government contract and be in a position to make decisions, so it presents a high financial risk they are being corrupted or corrupting others," Brillaud told Al Jazeera.

The list includes Mohammed Jameel, who sits on the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority, Tang Yong, president of part of a state-owned energy conglomerate China Resources Power Holding, and Apurv Bagri, former deputy chairman of Dubai's Board of Financial Services.

It also includes former member of the Russian Upper House of Parliament Vadim Moskovitch, former member of Ukraine's National Legislature Volodymyr Zubky, and billionaire Taha Mikati, brother of former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who are both among Lebanon's richest men.

The Al Jazeera report said that the 12 including four Russians, two people each from Ukraine, China and Iran, and one each from Venezuela and Vietnam secured Cypriot passports despite being under investigation for an assortment of crimes such as corruption and fraud.

2,500 acquired Cypriot passports

The Cypriot passport allows its holder to travel freely to 174 countries, making the scheme popular with people from nations where visa-free travel is restricted.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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