NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' president pledged on Monday to revoke any of his island republic's passports found to have been "mistakenly" granted to wealthy overseas investors under a controversial cash-for-citizenship program.
Nicos Anastasiades said errors may have been made in granting such so-called "golden passports" under an earlier, laxer version of the program.
"We have to admit mistakes" over some "blatant" instances where passports shouldn't have been issued, Anastasiades told reporters. He said there could be "perhaps 10-15" such cases of investors whom vetting had failed to identify as ineligible.
The allure of a Cypriot passport, particularly to wealthy individuals from countries outside the European Union, is that holders also become EU citizens and can travel and work freely within the bloc.
"Citizenship will be taken away from anyone who received it in violation of the strict criteria that are required, full stop," Anastasiades said. "And as soon as possible."
His statements came following media reports that some program beneficiaries may have been implicated in money-laundering or were linked to authoritarian governments.
Nearly 4,000 passports have been issued to investors since the program was launched following a 2013 financial crisis.
The scheme, which requires investments of at least 2 million euros ($2.2 million) in real estate or in a Cyprus-based business, has so far generated some 7 billion euros ($7.8 billion). Anastasiades said that money has helped the country rebound strongly from near-bankruptcy.
The government launched an investigation last month into all investors who received passports before eligibility rules and vetting procedures were first tightened in 2018.
Even more stringent vetting was enacted earlier this year. It included a requirement that investors already hold a visa permitting them to visit the EU.
That came after the EU issued a report in January warning Cyprus and other countries to beef up vetting procedures amid concerns that third-country nationals were exploiting the program to launder money and flout tax laws.