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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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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema

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When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.

Background

Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded

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The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      





Source – observer.ug

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19

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Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  





Source – observer.ug

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