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An unsurprising turn of events

The week in corruption, 8 November 2019

Transparency Int'l

This blog is part of our weekly series of updates on everything corruption related. You can get them straight to your inbox every Friday.

For a while now, we have been warning about the corruption risks of so-called ‘golden visa’ schemes that some European Union (EU) member states are running.

Many countries around the world offer residence or citizenship in exchange for investment. Some of them are especially attractive to individuals looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card and a safe haven for their illicit assets. More often than not, these schemes are shrouded in total secrecy.

So when the government of Cyprus this week admitted that their programme had been abused by corrupt individuals, we were hardly surprised. The country said it will revoke the passports of 26 people who received them at the time “when controls weren’t strict.”

Among these soon-to-be ex-Cypriots is fugitive financier Jho Low. Does the name ring a bell? Low is currently wanted as the alleged mastermind behind Malaysia’s billion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal. Interesting detail: he reportedly got his EU passport after the embezzlement scheme had been exposed.

Low is not the only person to use suspect assets to acquire access to the EU. Family members and associates of Cambodia’s autocratic leader reportedly bought their ticket to a European luxury life via Cyprus’s scheme, too.

Cyprus is not the only EU country running such a risky scheme. Last year, together with Global Witness, we studied European golden visa programmes and called on the EU to get its house in order.

We’ll be keeping up the pressure.

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