Cyprus will strip 26 foreigners of citizenship following an outcry over reports that fugitive financier Jho Low and allies of Cambodia’s hardline leader Hun Sen had taken advantage of the island’s cash-for-passports scheme.
The government declined to name those affected but they included five Chinese, nine Russians, eight Cambodians, a Malaysian, an Iranian and two Kenyans, according to an official cited by the Associated Press.
Three European Union countries – Cyprus, Bulgarian and Malta – run schemes selling citizenship. Senior EU officials have criticised the schemes saying they increase the risk of money laundering, tax evasion and corruption.
Passports issued by one country allow unfettered travel and rights of residency across all 28 EU nations. They Cypriot scheme offers citizenship in return for investments of 2.5 million euros. It has granted 1,864 of the passports through the scheme set up in the aftermath of financial crisis in 2013.
"This programme helped the country during a very difficult period," Constantinos Petrides, the interior minister, told reporters. "But beyond that, it shouldn't cause more damage than all the good it has done."
Cypriot daily Politis reported this week that Jho Low, a businessman at the centre of Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal had been given a passport in return for buying a luxury villa in the resort of Ayia Napa. Last week, the US said it had struck a deal with Mr Low to recover $700m in assets linked to the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
Mr Low’s whereabouts remain unknown. Malaysian police last year issued a warrant for his arrest.