(Wednesday, 23 May 2018)
Associated Press reported yesterday that Cyprus’s Council of Ministers has announced significant changes to the country’s citizenship by investment programme. The changes include capping the number of naturalisations at 700 a year, changing the programme’s official name, and tightening due diligence and vetting procedures for investors looking to get hold of a European Union passport.
Cypriot finance minister Harris Georgiades said that the new procedures will be “stricter and more credible” and that the number of passports granted under the revised scheme will be capped and additionally foreign agencies will also carry out “exhaustive checks” to ensure the suitability of applicants.
Georgiades admitted that there had been “weaknesses” to the previous rules, but he dismissed much of the criticism. “We reject the notion that the Cypriot passport is up for sale. We don’t depend on this scheme but it’s a useful complement to the tools we have to stimulate economic development.”
Cyprus introduced the scheme in the wake of a 2013 financial crisis that forced the government to accept a rescue programme from international creditors. Applications have risen sharply since 2014 when 214 main applicants (and 186 dependents) received approvals. Last year, the authorities naturalised 503 main applicants, plus 510 dependents.
The government’s Press and Information Office (PIO) announced that the programme will be known officially as the “Cypriot Investment Scheme” and all future applications will be subject to enhanced due diligence, the cost of which will be paid by applicants. The real estate investment holding period of three years will now start from the time a town planning permit is issued. Applicants will have to wait up to six months for their applications to be examined.
These amendments followed announcements earlier this year. In March, the government issued new rules regarding who may market the programme and also issued a new code of conduct “with clear provisions to avoid exaggerations and abusive practices”.
European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand stated last month that member states “should use their prerogatives to award citizenship in line with international and EU law and in the spirit of sincere co-operation” with other EU countries. According to some estimates, €4.8 billion has been raised by the programme between 2013 and 2016.