Cyprus: Trial of four alleged key players in ‘golden passport’ scheme postponed
Published: 26 October 2022
The trial of the four key players allegedly involved in the now scrapped ‘golden passport’ scheme scandal, including two who were shown in Al Jazeera’s undercover report, has been postponed to November 30.
The Nicosia criminal court decided to postpone the first hearing that was expected to start on Wednesday following requests by the defence counsel for additional testimonial material.
Chris Traintafyllides, the lawyer of one of the defendants, former House president Demetris Syllouris. requested testimonial material which is missing from the files handed over by the prosecution, noting that without it, he cannot advise his client. He also raised issues of abuse of process as he has not yet received an answer regarding the possible implication of the attorney general and the assistant attorney general in the naturalisation of foreign investors.
Requests for the delivery of testimonial material were also submitted by lawyer Giorgos Papioannou who is representing former Akel MP and developer Christakis Giovanis and senior lawyer for the Giovanis Group Antonis Antoniou as well as lawyer Andreas Pittadjis who is representing himself.
For its part, the Prosecution confirmed the objections of the defence lawyers regarding missing witness material and announced that it is examining lists sent by the lawyers to locate the witness material and deliver it.
The court decided to proceed with a trial based on the findings of the Nicolatos investigation into the citizenship by investment scheme, prompted by the airing of a report by the Al Jazeera network.
However, the legal service decided not to use the disputed video after the Al Jazeera journalists refused to testify at the trial, daily Politis reported on Tuesday. In its article, the newspaper explained that another reason why the video was not included in the testimonial material is due to the fact it was taken illegally and is a product of entrapment, thus highly likely to not be accepted by the court.
The defendants face five charges, including conspiracy to defraud the Republic and influencing a public official in violation of the laws criminalising corruption.
The court set bail for Syllouris, Giovanis and Antoniou at €50,000 and €30,000 for Pittadjis.
Triantafyllides had previously argued that Savvides and Angelides were involved in charges one, two and three in their capacity as former ministers, noting that both served as ministers in the cabinet which approved passports – the same passports for which his client is on trial. They served as justice minister and defence minister respectively, as recently as 2020.
In August 2020, Al Jazeera aired a report – dubbed The Cyprus Papers – on the island’s citizenship-by-investment programme based on an investigation of “more than 1,400 leaked documents.”
The network said Cyprus had been granting citizenships to dubious individuals, a claim fiercely rejected at the time by the government.
Al Jazeera’s undercover video showed Syllouris and Giovanis offering to help a pretend Chinese businessman with a criminal record secure citizenship.
The pair were forced to resign as the government hastily terminated the programme.
Triantafyllides also raised another matter in the Nicosia district court before the referral of the case to the criminal court. His argument related to charges 4 and 5. The charge sheet says these have to do with the granting of a passport (the third) to a foreign national – but does not name the individual.
“The global population is approximately 7.5 billion, and I cannot adequately defend my client unless I know who this foreign national is,” he told the court.
“The question is, does this person exist or not?”
A third matter he raised pertains to an opinion piece published by Politis newspaper on September 10, which the attorney claimed had sought to prejudice the court.
The unsigned opinion piece read: “Let us hope that this time that justice will keep both its eyes and ears open, and that we shall not end up again with a decision akin to those in other major scandals.”
The Nicolatos investigative committee was appointed by the government and was led by former Supreme Court judge Myron Nicolatos. It found that 53 per cent of the 6,779 citizenships granted overall were unlawful, and said politicians and institutions had political responsibilities while certain applicants and service providers may be held criminally culpable.
The probe covered the period from the scheme’s inception in 2007, through to August 2020.