There was no pressure to change criteria either from the foreign press or from the European Commission, said former Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis, speaking before the members of the Investigative Committee of the Exceptional Naturalization of Foreign Investors and Entrepreneurs.
At the same time, answering a question, Mr. Stavrakis said that there was no reason not to make regulations and it was something that no one noticed, adding that he has a share of responsibility that no regulations were made.
Mr. Stavrakis, who served as Minister of Finance from February 2008 to July 2011, said that in the three and a half years he had been Minister of Finance and in the previous five years of his term there were “very few naturalizations, the foreign press was not negative “And we have never had a problem with the European Commission,” he said.
According to the former YPOIK, naturalizations were not “very fashionable” then and in the news, as they are today.
He added that in the five years he was given about 240 passports and proportionally in the three and a half years of his term he was probably given about 100 passports.
Asked if anyone had intervened for naturalizations, Mr Stavrakis said that in only one case had he been asked “to change the regulations and have special treatment” and added that these people had left 1.5m euros in Cyprus. within 3 years in various fees and taxes and “was a good case in terms of financial interest”.
Answering a question from the Chairman of the Research Committee of Myron Nikolatos whether there were errors or omissions in the operation of the naturalization program, Mr. Stavrakis said that it was important that “in most cases the naturalizations were done for people who had been in Cyprus for three years and had already a permanent residence permit “.
He explained that these were the people who came to Cyprus, bought an apartment, got a residence permit from the Ministry of Interior, created jobs and in three years they said we want to get a Cypriot passport “.
He stated that there were definitely gaps and omissions that he does not know and can not remember and “one day something can be found that afterwards someone should not have done so”, as he said.
He also said that in this way naturalizations were made for “a well-known large bank owned by foreigners in Cyprus” and he is proud of that.
Mr. Stavrakis also said that there were exceptions, while he stated that he understands the next Governments which due to the economic crisis, as he said, “felt the pressure to speed up the process” and to issue passports “with minimal previous ties”.
He said that every government has made an effort to improve the criteria which “have changed twice and that is right”.
Referring to the procedure followed to give exceptional naturalizations, due to investments or other services in the Republic, Mr. Stavrakis said that although he does not remember, the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could make a suggestion to the Council of Ministers that although an applicant fully complied with the letter of the law due to wider public interest could be viewed positively and “I probably would have participated in such Councils of Ministers”.
He also said that the issue was the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had an important role as it should give a positive suggestion to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry regarding the financial criteria of the application.
Asked whether a code of conduct was observed in the Council of Ministers to avoid conflicts of interest, Mr. Stavrakis said “from what I remember no”.
Asked whether until the approval by the Ministry there was communication between the Ministry of Finance and the investor or the service provider, Mr. Stavrakis said that it was his policy to try to meet all major foreign investors and all service providers (lawyers, accountants) and “it is very likely that there were meetings with some lawyers, accountants”.
He said that with passport applicants he remembers that they helped a foreign company because “it would be a great help for the economy of Cyprus”.
He said that afterwards he saw that the specific company came to Cyprus and “was one of the serious foreign investors who made real investments”.
Asked by Mr. Nikolatos if in this case executives other than the shareholders were naturalized, Mr. Stavrakis said that he does not remember.
Asked if there was pressure for naturalization, Mr. Stavrakis said that he remembers a case where the application was rejected and after the provider (accountant) called for the application to be re-examined, he asked them to come to his office in the presence of officials.
He stated that the officials were persuaded by the accountants and the application was submitted again, which was submitted to the Ministry but he does not remember what happened after that because he left the Minister.
In a remark of the member of the Committee Dimitra Kalogirou that there were his own letters to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he states that the financial criteria of the 2007 plan are not met but it is proposed to the Council of Ministers, for the general benefit of the economy, to proceed with these cases. Stavrakis said he did not remember these cases, noting that these criteria “are sometimes very general”.
Asked by Ms. Kalogirou if he suggested a change of criteria in 2011, Mr. Stavrakis said that the only criteria that changed during his ministry “were on January 4, 2011 that the minor children of investors were allowed”, which were financially dependent.
“We considered it a right criterion, when the investor met the specifications, at a later stage” to receive a passport and his children, “he added.
Commenting on Mr. Nikolatos that this enabled the Council of Ministers to naturalize both spouses and adult children and when asked if the legality of this decision was checked and the Advocate General was consulted, Mr. Stavrakis said that he did not remember the details which handled by officials, who met the criteria.
He said he did not remember asking for the attorney general's power of attorney, but “probably not,” he said.
Asked by the member of the Committee and Financial Commissioner Pavlos Ioannou why the system worked without regulations and without legislation, Mr. Stavrakis said that “you are absolutely right, we also have the share of responsibility that no regulations were made”.
Commenting on Mr. Ioannou that there is a statement in the decision of the Council of Ministers that none of the criteria affects the absolute discretion of the Minister in making a decision and asked if this is a self-repeal of the decision, Mr. Stavrakis said that “you may be right ».
Asked by Ms. Kalogirou whether it was common to overlook naturalization procedures and criteria in this way and whether he remembers a case, Mr. Stavrakis said he remembers only one case, adding that an accounting firm provided evidence that an investor in in 3 years he left in Cyprus 1.5 million euros in various fees and taxes.
“I thought it was a very large amount that would continue and should be approved,” he added.
He stated that in October 2011 the criteria were changed and this development was initiated by his Ministry and added that the reason for the change was that in the old criteria there was the condition of keeping a deposit for five years but as this term was written, as he said, “It was not clear that the applicant had to keep the deposit for five years after obtaining citizenship.”
He also said that the second change was whether an applicant leaves about 1.5 million euros or 500,000 in the Cypriot economy in the last three years in cash to be a naturalization criterion.
Asked by Mr. Ioannou if there was a reason that did not help to prepare a bill and issue regulations, Mr. Stavrakis said that “there was no reason” and “it was the acquired speed of 15 years or the negligence that no one noticed ».
Asked by the member of the Committee Kyriakos Kyriakou whether the required amount was deposited and then they pledged it and therefore took a loan that was taken out of Cyprus, without the depositor being deprived of his capital, Mr. Stavrakis said that “this is still an inability to have the deposit as the main criterion of naturalization “.
Asked by Ms. Kalogirou if the Ministry of Finance had the most role and not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Stavrakis said that in theory the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the legal responsibility to make the proposal to the Minister but the Ministry of Education had the responsibility to make the economic study (financially Criteria).
He noted that the then Minister of Interior Neoklis Silikiotis in two cases rejected requests of the Ministry of Interior.
Asked by Mr. Nikolatos about the role of Parliament and whether there was any reaction to any request, Mr. Stavrakis said he did not remember.
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