https://www.occrp.org/en/daily-Written by Eli Moskowitz
Cyprus will begin the process of revoking passports belonging to seven individuals who obtained them by submitting false information on their applications for the country’s Citizenship by Investment Program, according to a Wednesday government press release.
Cyprus passport cover (Photo: Council of Europe, CC SA-BY 3.0)
Following a meeting chaired by President Nikos Anastasiadis, government spokesperson Kyriakos Kousios released a statement to local media, who have since identified the seven individuals who allegedly “concealed essential facts and had made false representations when submitting their application.”
The government said it has decided to forward these findings to its chief of police, who will conduct an investigation to determine whether any of the listed individuals “are wanted for a serious criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for more than 5 years,” or if they are wanted by international authorities such as Interpol or Europol.
One of the seven individuals is reportedly Jho Low, who was charged with laundering some of the US$4.5 billion stolen from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund. He reached a settlement with U.S. authorities to recover nearly a billion dollars in assets.
Jho Low remains at large and is wanted by Malaysian authorities. He is believed to be living in China, although Beijing’s government has recently denied this.
Another person who will reportedly lose his golden passport and be investigated is Maleksabet Ebrahimi, who is on Interpol’s most wanted list for charges of money laundering, fraud, forgery and counterfeiting, and leading an organized criminal group.
According to Al Jazeera, Ebrahimi is wanted by authorities in both Iran and Canada, but denies all charges and says that he has complied with both Iranian and Cypriot laws.
Others identified by local media include Mr. Ebrahimi’s wife, Mehdi Ebrahimi Eshratabadi, Sopheap Choeung, a close ally to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Zhang Schumin, a Chinese national, along with Rusian businessmen Alexander Bondarenko and Vladimir Stolyarenko.
Cyprus’ golden passport industry – which has helped its government raise more than 7 billion euros ($8 billion) since it started the program in 2013 – has come under increased fire after Al Jazeera’s investigative unit published the “Cyprus Papers,” a leak of more than 1,400 passport applications approved by the government of the island nation between 2017 and 2019.
In response to its findings, Cypriot Member of Parliament Eleni Mavrou told the outlet that the way the program was implemented “was obviously a procedure that allowed cases for which the Republic of Cyprus should be ashamed.”