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Exclusive: Cyprus sold passports to criminals and fugitives | Cyprus News

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Convicted fraudsters, money launderers and political figures accused of corruption are among dozens of people from more than 70 countries who have bought so-called “golden passports” from Cyprus, according to a large cache of official documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

The Cyprus Papers is a leak of more than 1,400 passport applications approved by the government of the island nation between 2017 and 2019, and it raises serious questions about the Cyprus Investment Programme.

Passports for the Greek part of the divided island can be important for individuals from countries that have restricted access to Europe, as Cyprus is a member of the European Union (EU) and a passport offers its holder access to free travel, work and banking in all 27 member states.

In the coming days, Al Jazeera will reveal the identities of dozens of people who acquired Cypriot citizenship who, according to the country’s own rules, in many cases should not have received a passport.

Security risk

To apply for a Cypriot passport, applicants must invest at least 2.15m euros ($2.5m) in the Cypriot economy, usually by buying real estate, and have a clean criminal record.

However, applicants provide their own proof of eligibility, and although Cyprus claimed to check applicants’ backgrounds, the documents obtained by Al Jazeera prove that this did not always happen.

Since its inception in 2013, the programme has received repeated criticism from the EU, which has called for it to be closed down.


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“It’s high value for everyone who comes from a country where there’s a lot of dirty money involved”, German MEP Sven Giegold, a strong critic of the programme, told Al Jazeera.

“You open a bank account, a business relationship and less questions asked, no visa requirements, easier to get access to get everywhere to travel than if you are from Russia, China or even more doubtful countries.”

Since 2013, when the passport programme started, the country has made more than 7 billion euros ($8bn), used to keep afloat the nation’s failing economy.

Burisma and Gazprom officials

Between 2017 and 2019, the countries with the highest number of people applying were Russia, China and Ukraine.

Among the approved applications seen by Al Jazeera was Ukrainian tycoon Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of the giant Burisma energy company.

When Zlochevsky bought his Cypriot passport in 2017, he was already under investigation for corruption in his home country.

In June 2020 Ukrainian prosecutors said they were offered $6m in cash to drop the investigation.

Zlochevsky and Burisma deny any knowledge of the bribe.

Like many on wanted lists in their home country, Zlochevsky’s Cypriot passport allows him to live beyond the reach of Ukrainian law enforcement.

Ukrainian prosecutors display $6m they say was offered as a bribe to drop their long-running investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky and Burisma [Al Jazeera]

A similar application came from Russian national Nikolay Gornovskiy, former boss of the state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

Gornovskiy was already on Russia’s wanted list for abuse of power when Cyprus approved his passport in 2019 and has so far thwarted all attempts to extradite him.

Other applications were approved even after the applicant had been arrested and sometimes even served their time in prison.

Ali Beglov, a Russian national, bought his passport despite serving a prison sentence for extortion, which should not have been possible according to Cyprus’s rules.

Chinese businessman Zhang Keqiang also received a Cypriot passport, despite having spent time in prison for a fraudulent share deal.

Vietnamese businessman Pham Nhat Vu’s passport was approved a month after he was charged with giving millions of dollars in bribes in a telecoms deal.

He is now serving three years in jail.

According to Laure Brillaud, Senior Policy Officer with Transparency International, an NGO focused on combatting international corruption, these results are worrying but not surprising.

“These programmes bear inherent risks of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion. They were designed to attract people just looking for a fast track to the EU,” she told Al Jazeera.

Stricter rules

In May 2019, Cyprus introduced tougher rules on who was eligible for citizenship, which banned anyone under investigation, wanted, convicted or under international sanctions from buying a passport.

Cypriot parliamentarians in July finally passed a law that gave the country the power to remove citizenship after several scandals involving notorious golden passport investors, but politicians voted against any move to publish the names of those who buy Cypriot citizenship.

The new stricter law applies to anyone who commits a serious crime, is wanted by Interpol or subject to sanctions in the 10 years after they bought their passport.

Cyprus is reviewing all past applications and announced about 30 unnamed people face losing citizenship, but The Cyprus Papers reveal many more may fall foul of the new law.

They include people such as Venezuelan Leonardo Gonzalez Dellan, an ex-banker, who was sanctioned by the United States for laundering millions in illegal currency deals for the Venezuelan government.

Another person who could lose his passport is Oleg Bakhmatiuk, under investigation in Ukraine for embezzlement and money laundering relating to his giant agricultural firm.

He called the charges “a complete fabrication and politically motivated”.

Although Bakhmatiuk told Al Jazeera the proceedings against him had ended with the charges dropped, the country’s official prosecutor confirmed he is still on Ukraine’s wanted list.

Embezzlement and money laundering

Some other examples of passport holders facing serious charges are Russian brothers Alexei and Dmitry Ananiev, who bought citizenship in 2017.

They are accused in Russia of embezzling from the bank they once owned.

Another person who received Cypriot citizenship is Chinese national Li Jiadong, who was sanctioned by the US for laundering $100m in cryptocurrency related to North Korean hackers.

Lastly, there are Maleksabet Ebrahimi and his son Mehdi, who are both on Interpol’s most-wanted list for money laundering and fraud in Iran and facing similar charges in Canada.

Maleksabet Ebrahimi denies the charges against him and says he complied at all times with Iranian and Cypriot laws.

CITIZEN 1 - Maleksabet Ebrahimi

Maleksabet Ebrahimi on Interpol’s Red List of the world’s most wanted suspects  [Interpol/Al Jazeera]

‘Cyprus should be ashamed’

In response to questions from Al Jazeera, Cypriot Member of Parliament Eleni Mavrou said: “The way the programme was implemented the last few years was obviously a procedure that allowed cases for which the Republic of Cyprus should be ashamed.” 

“I believe that the new regulations will not leave room for foul play or for stepping over the boundaries that a state should respect,” she added.

The Minister of the Interior, Nicos Nouris told Al Jazeera: “No citizenship was granted in violation of the regulations in force at the given time.”

Over the coming days, Al Jazeera will reveal dozens of other people who acquired Cypriot citizenship including many who would now be in breach of the country’s rules for application. 



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million

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Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe

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A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.



Source – observer.ug

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News

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Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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