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Exclusive: Cyprus sold passports to ‘politically exposed persons’ | News

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A huge leak of confidential Cypriot government documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit called The Cyprus Papers reveals that dozens of high-level officials and their families bought so-called “golden passports” from Cyprus between late 2017 and late 2019.

Among those who bought the passports, worth a minimum investment of $2.5m each, were elected politicians of several countries, board members of state enterprises and the brother of a former Lebanese Prime Minister.

These officials, known as politically exposed persons (PEPs), are internationally recognised as a category of individuals who are at higher risk of corruption because they or their family members hold some form of government position.

The revelation comes one day after Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit revealed that Cyprus sold passports to convicted criminals and fugitives from the law.

Following that news on Sunday, the Cypriot Ministry of Interior put out a statement saying it is reviewing the released information, adding that it has already made substantial changes to the investment programme in recent years.


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One of the people who bought a passport is Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament, who not only bought Cypriot citizenship for himself, his wife and three daughters, but also provided the family passports for St. Kitts and Nevis, one of several Caribbean states who sell citizenship.

Rahmani is a former general who became a highly successful businessman handling fuel and transport contracts between the Afghan government and the US military.

His election as speaker of the House provoked fighting on the floor of the House as opponents claimed vote-rigging.

Fighting breaks out in protest at Rahman Rahmani’s election as speaker of Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament [Al Jazeera]

Two other officials who bought golden passports are Pham Phu Quoc, who represents Ho Chi Minh City in the Vietnamese Congress, and Russian national Igor Reva, once a deputy minister for economic development.

PEPs like Rahmani, Quok and Reva often hold keys to vast sums of taxpayer money, senior policy officer Laure Brillaud from anti-corruption NGO Transparency International told Al Jazeera.

“They have access to public resources, they can be sitting on a government contract and be in a position to make decisions, so it presents a high financial risk they are being corrupted or corrupting others,” Brillaud told Al Jazeera.

The documents do not prove wrongdoing by any individual PEP and it does not follow from the identification of risk that PEPs are involved in corruption.

However, they do raise serious questions about why someone who has been entrusted with a public position in their home country would want to buy a second citizenship for themselves or their family.

In addition, in several cases, it begs the question of how these officials obtained the money to invest at least $2.5m in Cyprus’s economy, one of the requirements to obtain a golden passport.

Who are the rich that buy so-called ‘golden passports’?

“In many countries, it’s only possible to acquire great wealth through illicit connections and relationships,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow at the UK’s International Institute of Strategic Affairs.

According to Gould-Davies, the reason these officials then choose to obtain a second or even third citizenship is to protect the assets obtained over the years.

“Once they have acquired those sums of money through those sorts of connections we regard as very problematic, they want to make those assets safe by squirrelling away their assets in countries that enjoy the rule of law,” he added, referring to Cyprus.

EU criticism

A Cypriot passport is a coveted possession in many countries as it grants access to free travel, work and banking across the European Union, which has criticised the programme several times for being a security risk since its incarnation in 2013.

As a result, the EU regards Cyprus as a back door into the rest of the EU for politically influential people from potentially hostile states.

Under pressure from the EU, Cyprus changed its rules in 2019, but Al Jazeera’s research revealed many PEPs had already secured their place as Cypriot citizens before the rule change came into force.

That list includes Mohammed Jameel, who sits on the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority, Tang Yong, president of part of a state-owned energy conglomerate China Resources Power Holding, and Apurv Bagri, former deputy chairman of Dubai’s Board of Financial Services.

It also includes former member of the Russian Upper House of Parliament Vadim Moskovitch, former member of Ukraine’s National Legislature Volodymyr Zubky, and billionaire Taha Mikati, brother of former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who are both among Lebanon’s richest men.

Cyprus Papers Mikati brothers

Taka Mikati, right, with his brother, former Prime Minister of Lebanon Najib Mikati [Facebook/Al Jazeera

In July 2020, Cyprus passed a new law enabling them to strip citizenship sold to anyone who was now considered damaging to Cyprus’s national interest.

But although PEPs are now deemed unfit to become citizens, the new law leaves many existing “high-risk” cases untouched. Anyone who has already paid their $2.5m can hang onto their golden passport.

In reply to questions by Al Jazeera, Cypriot Minister of the Interior Nicos Nouris did not respond as to why the new legislation enabling the country to revoke citizenship does not apply to PEPs.

Nouris did say that there was now “an independent three-member committee which studies and evaluates all the information regarding persons that have been granted Cypriot citizenship”.

Over the coming days, Al Jazeera will reveal more details from The Cyprus Papers about the people who bought Cypriot citizenship.





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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