NEWS

Cyprus unveils anti-corruption steps to quell public angst

cyprus-unveils-anti-corruption-steps-to-quell-public-angst

The president of Cyprus on Friday unveiled anti-corruption measures to counter a groundswell of public disenchantment following a scandal involving the country's defunct citizenship-for-investment program.

President Nicos Anastasiades called the string of measures the Mediterranean island nation's "greatest-ever intervention" to battle a widespread perception that crooked officials continue to operate unchecked.

The measures include establishing an anti-corruption task force under the direction of the attorney general and an "integrity service" tasked with vetting officials' personal assets for potential conflicts of interest.

Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis also announced the creation of a committee charged with preventing political interference in government appointments, the bolstering of legal protections for whistleblowers and the formation of a lobbyists registry.

Additionally, penalties for corruption-related crimes will be beefed up, the police force will get a new financial crimes investigations unit and the public will be granted online access to anti-corruption investigations for more transparency.

Anastasiades has been a target of anger, expressed in numerous social media posts, suggesting that corruption was permitted to blossom during his eight years in office. In a nationally televised address on Thursday, the president strenuously denied the allegations as "an orchestrated campaign" to sully his name and hurt him politically.

The citizenship-for-investment program, which started in 2007, provided Cypriot passports for individuals who plowed 2.5 million euro ($3 million) into the country's economy. It was particularly attractive to investors because a passport from European Union member Cyprus would grant them free movement within the 27-member bloc.

The program was ramped up after 2013, when a financial crisis nearly drove Cyprus into bankruptcy. It raised more than 8 billion euros ($9.7 billion) in investments before it was canceled in November.

The president said rumor and innuendo implied "falsely and without shame" that the country's once lucrative program was created to benefit the law firm that carries his name.

The Cypriot government canceled the program following an undercover news report that caught the parliamentary speaker and a long-serving lawmaker on video allegedly promising to help circumvent the rules for a fictitious Chinese investor with a supposed criminal conviction. The two legislators have since resigned.

The findings of a limited probe into the program that were released last month detailed how lax vetting procedures allowed some investors to submit incomplete applications or to provide false information.

A wider, more in-depth investigation under the attorney-general's direction is currently underway.

[ΑP]