On the one hand, I had rejected a proposal of the Ministry of Finance for exceptional naturalization because it did not meet the criteria, said the former Minister of Interior, Neoklis Silikiotis, during his testimony on December 17, 2020 before the Investigative Committee of Exceptional Naturalization of Foreign Investors and Businessmen. which were published by the Research Committee.
“The Ministry of Finance could have judged that this investor is important and therefore could have given the recommendation and I do not think it was a fault,” he said, noting, however, that “the criteria were not met” and that “some did not meet the criteria and were rejected “.
Answering the questions of the Chairman of the Committee, Myronas Nikolatos, and the members of Pavlos Ioannou, Kyriakos Kyriakos and Dimitra Kalogirou, he also explained that the Ministry of Finance is the one that controlled the finances. “The Ministry of Finance could not tell anyone not to do it, but what I said is that we wanted the criteria to be strictly followed as they were met,” he said.
Asked if in his opinion mistakes were made in the operation of the program during his two terms in the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Silikiotis said that “if after years, when I saw reports, some of them had problems, this does not mean that from then we could have predicted it, maybe a more specialized control would have to be done in some cases “.
He stated that “possibly these cases that appeared afterwards really did not have any problems, not that we could not identify what control was done and exactly the problems that appeared and saw the light of publicity were done afterwards. “but one cannot predict.”
He pointed out that “while I was Minister I do not remember any exceptional citizenship was approved by the code without meeting these criteria.”
Commenting that during his term of office naturalized persons were considered, who were considered high risk or persons who were subsequently deprived of naturalization due to problems, and commenting on a report in specific cases, Mr. Silikiotis said that “there were no problems for` “Those you mentioned, I do not remember there was any problem, we are talking from what I remember about important investors with important activities in Russia and elsewhere.”
“We could not have known in 2009, 2010, 2011 that someone would have a problem afterwards and I am referring to these 30 categories that saw the light of day,” he said, referring to a specific case.
Referring to another case, he said that “we are talking about someone who was one of the biggest businessmen in Syria, invested in Cyprus, got an immigration permit in 2009, that is, was approved and got citizenship after a year and a half for about 2 years if I am not mistaken.”
He pointed out that in June 2011 the European Union for political reasons had put him on the European Union sanctions list because he supported the Assad regime. “We may disagree with the political sanctions, but we are committed to the European Union, and as soon as we were informed by the Foreign Ministry that these sanctions existed, the process of revocation began in June 2011, when I was Minister.” reported.
He also added, “there were cases that were not approved, did not go to the Council of Ministers. I remember, I only remember one case, it was a Russian Jew who was one of the largest producers of diamonds in the world. I just put it to explain what I mean, I came across reports that he was criticized by UNICEF for exploiting child labor in the Congo, of course we later learned again from reports that he was rebuilding the settlements in occupied Palestine. He did not have any conviction, but apart from the legal one, there is also the moral and the morally permissible and this did not go to the Council of Ministers, they did not approve it “.
Mr. Silikiotis said that the 2007 program really as an investment program contributed a lot to the development of the Cypriot society.
“The Council of Ministers, as you well know, has the power to grant exceptional citizenship and honorary honors, of course. “On this basis, it was decided during the time of Tassos Papadopoulos to introduce this exception to attract investors” , he added.
“I believe that until at least 2013 there were significant investors, some of whom are still in Cyprus, have made large investments, have offered,” he said, referring to a specific case which has been removed from the minutes that have been made public. He explained that his report is “because it is something that is being discussed now, to say that in 2011 they acquired citizenship based on the criteria and the submission of investment data and amounts, the 7 who were investors and shareholders”.
“Of course what happened next and is being discussed today, I think it is another issue that you will consider. Let me also say that at least until the time I served in 2012, almost all investors had a relationship with Cyprus. What does a relationship with Cyprus mean? “The vast majority had permanent residence, if not all of them, they had an immigration permit, which is approved as a permanent residence permit”, he added.
He said that “the Ministry of Finance was checking for investments, deposits as provided then, you know very well the amounts were significant, we were initially talking about 17 million deposits, 25 million investments, there was also a check by the Police for the white criminal record and “Several cases involved bankers.”
He noted that there was an audit by the Central Bank, especially after 1.01.2008 when Cyprus joined the Eurozone and there was an audit by the European Bank regarding the program.
Asked how many exceptional naturalizations took place during the two periods of his tenure as Minister of Interior, Mr. Silikiotis said that “under the rule of Tassos Papadopoulos, I do not remember any standards, because it may have started after the period in which I left.”
He added that during the government of Dimitris Christofias he has heard that “a total of 141 applications were submitted”.
“You realize that I was in March 2012, it could have been 110, 120, I do not remember exactly in any case to say that there were not many applications, they were investments that in one frequency were 1-2 per month the applications were made,” he said. .
Asked if a register of naturalizations was kept by the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Silikiotis said that a register was kept and that according to the law, the Parliament was informed. “Then, compared to today, almost all the information was given, I do not remember exactly, but a lot of information was given in Parliament about the investor, who he was, I say in relation to today, because today I know that in Parliament only the name is given and “where he comes from and I consider that it was an obligation under the law before the decision to inform the House of Representatives”, he stated.
Mr. Silikiotis also said that although the Ministry of Finance was investigating, all the files, and all the proposals went to the Council of Ministers, he himself, as Minister, was carefully studying the entire file because he really wanted to make sure that there was a private residence, that it was done investments, because one of the conditions is for the other to have a private home not only on paper, but also in practice.
Answering another question, Mr. Silikiotis said that he does not remember that there was any objection to any decision by the Council of Ministers. He stated that “the whole file went to the Ministry of Finance and the Police, as I did of course with all the proposals that went to the Council of Ministers from my Ministry, all the files, all the proposals I studied before sending them to the Council of Ministers.”
Asked about the Central Bank's audit of the program, the former Foreign Minister said that the whole process was done by the Ministry of Finance and that he did not know the details.
“But what I do know is that when someone was a banker or a bank owner in Cyprus, they should logically be controlled by the Central Bank, I do not know details because all the procedures related to the control of investments, finances, deposits, these were done by the Ministry of Finance “, he added.
Asked about the procedure followed from the first day of submitting the application until the issuance of the naturalization certificate, Mr. Silikiotis said that an application was also submitted to the Ministry of Interior. “From there, the file was requested, as I said before, almost all of them had a residence permit, immigration issued by the Immigration Committee, if there was a file, the procedure was followed at the Ministry of Finance, the Police, the Interpol office, Europol received answers, was prepared “The file was informed to the Parliament before it was sent to the Council of Ministers for approval and then it was approved by the Council of Ministers and the procedures of the law were followed. I understand with the Court and so I do not know, I do not remember,” he said.
Asked if they always took an opinion from the Ministry of Finance or sometimes they did not take it and proceeded without it, Mr. Silikiotis said that they expected the opinion of the Ministry of Finance if the criteria were met.
He said that in 2011 improvements were made. “It was a suggestion of the Ministry of Finance because they wanted to help, investors came and of course some improvements were made that had to do with the program, an improvement I remember was the sanctions from the European Union, when there are decisions from the European Union to take it into account “ , he noted. “That's where the data came in, if I remember correctly, that one has to pay 3 years tax or fees for example,” he said.
He noted that the 7 people he mentioned earlier, paid one and a half million each in Income Tax to meet the criterion, 500,000 each year for 3 years.
Asked if during the processing of a naturalization application, there was communication between the Ministry of Interior and the investor or service provider, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs said that at that time there were not many service providers, and that many investors approached the Ministry and asked for information. “I remember many times there were meetings in the office; there were some providers who were actually asking for information,” he said.
Answering another question, Mr. Silikiotis said that the General Directors of the Ministry of Interior had nothing to do with the issue of naturalizations.
Asked if during his tenure at the Ministry of Interior any issue of more thorough, detailed examination and control of the applicants was raised, Mr. Silikiotis said that throughout his tenure no recommendation was made by the European Union either. , nor by any European international organization.
He added that there were no negative posts about this program from what he remembers. “So since there was no problem, there was no need for what you say,” he said.
Answering another question, he clarified that exceptional naturalizations are the exclusive responsibility of the Council of Ministers based on the law.
“The Council of Ministers, based on the Constitution, is the one that judges the public interest and it considers that for reasons of public interest it grants an exceptional honorary citizenship ,” he said, noting that “exceptional citizenships were granted except for investment reasons.” “For example, I remember that we approved footballers after a proposal by the KOP to play in the national team, so the Minister had this power”, he said.
Asked about specific documents in relation to specific naturalizations that were presented during the procedure before the Commission, Mr. Silikiotis said that “then the spouses were not approved as it is done today, there was no such provision”.
Referring to a specific case, he said that “it was logical to want citizenship, it was Cyprus for many years, it was decades”. “Following the procedures provided by the decisions of the Council of Ministers, the program, ie deposits and investments, private residence, as far as I remember they were in Cyprus for many years and had a permanent residence permit and acquired Cypriot citizenship,” he added, noting that have offered significantly and still offer to the Cypriot economy.
Answering another question, Mr. Silikiotis said that “the legislation on naturalizations provides that spouses can be made after some years, when someone is a Cypriot citizen and marries a third country or European country citizen are entitled after 3 years and the children and spouses to acquire citizenship, this legislation is for ubiquitous naturalizations “.
Asked if when women acquired citizenship after 3 years, both women and minor children could take citizenship, Mr. Silikiotis said that for minor children and wives it is 5 years. “As long as he is a Cypriot citizen when he marries and remarries a citizen of a third country or European country, after 3 years he also acquires the rights, this is provided by the legislation for his naturalizations, ie the law on the population register,” he added. .
Answering another question, Mr. Silikiotis said that “exceptional naturalization is an honorary citizenship, rather it is by grace or honorary, it can be neither for the wives nor for the children”.
He added: “We have never encouraged a collective investment program. “Today, because we are discussing after the reports of the Auditor General that collective nationalities were granted and to say that, as far as I know, the Parliament was not informed about the collective ones either”, he stated. He expressed the view that it is wrong to make exceptionally collective naturalizations.
Asked if there were cases of acceleration and under what conditions, Mr. Silikiotis said that from what he remembers they did not exist because there were not so many cases to need acceleration. “That is, today we are talking about many thousands of applications, then we were talking about a few applications and that is why there was no acceleration, the process was very fast, it did not last long, ” he said.
Answering a question about naturalizations of company executives during his time as Minister and a little later, Mr. Silikiotis said that “I think those who got it, now I do not remember well because years passed, were 5 owners and 2 spouses, who became separately, they did not become spouses “. He said that he agrees that it is wrong to give citizenship to all employees and even to some who did not come to Cyprus.
For another case he said that it was 2 or 3, “and in fact one left Cyprus and its executives” , So what matters is that what happened and made it easier for this company to remain in Cyprus “as a foreign bank and “Everyone knows its contribution to the economy.”
“But it did not expand, in no case did what you said go to employees, department heads and so on, something that happened in recent years with this collective investment program that I told you about, because we expected it to be strictly exceptional. “, they should know those who will invest”, he added.
Asked if there were cases where the Parliament submitted any objection or any comment on any naturalization, Mr. Silikiotis replied that in no case did such a thing happen. “We were getting a lot of information in Parliament, now that the name is given and where it comes from, and in fact then we had articles in Cypriot newspapers, not necessarily negative articles,” he said, citing the specific example you mentioned earlier, “Russian billionaire was on the front page of 'Alithia' acquires, acquires Cypriot citizenship was not a negative publication, but the Parliament was fully and uninterruptedly informed “.
Asked if he was aware of any case in which naturalization was carried out without meeting the requirements of the law or the criteria set by the Council of Ministers, Mr. Silikiotis replied: “No, by no means, I told you before than I remember that there were some, I do not remember exactly which were, that there was a recommendation from the Ministry of Finance even though they did not meet the criteria from the Ministry of Interior, I repeat that although someone did not meet the criteria can decide for an exceptional case I give citizenship because it is exceptionally, but again they did not approve them because what they wanted was to meet the criteria we set that we had as a Council of Ministers “.
Asked if he, as Minister, had any objections to a naturalization application, he said “not those that were approved, but I said earlier that while there was a recommendation that the Ministry of Finance did not go to the Council of Ministers because it did not meet the criteria.”
Asked if during his tenure he diagnosed a problem in the operation of the program, Mr. Silikiotis said that “there were problems”.
He referred to the example of a person who “was in the sanctions of the European Union”, adding that “the change of October 2011 included the provision that when someone's property is confiscated or has sanctions from the European Union not to be granted citizenship, of course and we could not use it before, but it is good to have it in the criteria “.
Asked why no regulations had been adopted, Mr. Silikiotis said that he did not consider that there was an issue that regulations should be made. “When there are very few cases without any problems, without any recommendation from a European or international organization, there is no need for regulations,” he said.
At the same time, he noted that “legislation and regulations had to be made that would address the issue comprehensively.”
He also pointed out that “the Council of Ministers, since it has the power to serve the public interest, can approve any case, but beyond the legal there is also the moral or political aspect.”
“I say this because now we are discussing that 350 passports were given by the former office of the President and offices of former and current ministers. In my opinion, to approve passports, to naturalize them is not illegal, but there is a conflict of interest, there is morality, there is “The political aspect and that of course every government must be judged politically,” he said.
He pointed out that “the need to make regulations and laws a posteriori appears to be the right one and possibly to prevent abuses that have occurred in recent years.”
Asked if during his tenure any audit was carried out by the Audit Office or by the Legal Service for this program, Mr. Silikiotis said that he does not remember.
Asked if he knew if there was any involvement from the presidency of the Republic or other policies or other interventions of any state or Church official for this program, Mr. Silikiotis said that “since the program has been operating since 2007, I repeat that there was no recommendation for the approval of anyone. “
In a remark that for a specific case it was written in the media at the essential time that there was a phone call from President Anastasiadis, who was then President of DISY to him, Mr. Silikiotis said that “the problem was that it was published and in fact in “Alithia” newspaper front page, I said it before and it leaked from the Parliament and we had other publications, which were not critical of the Government “.
But it was created with a specific person, who named, “an issue then in Moscow, published if I'm not mistaken the newspaper 'Kommersat', is one of the largest newspaper in circulation and financial newspaper in Moscow, there was an issue that has to do with the leak of the name “. “Then they took me from Mr. Anastasiadis' office and I told them that it was not from the Ministry that leaked the information, but from the Parliament, exactly my communication with Mr. Anastasiadis had been made for these reasons” , he noted.
“In fact, if I remember correctly, I had sent him other publications, not for this, for other cases, to prove to him that the information was leaked by the House of Representatives and in my opinion you understand that there is a question of publishing personal data,” he said. .
Asked under what conditions the naturalization took place for a person who worked at the embassy of Qatar, Mr. Silikiotis said that he does not remember the event.
He added that there were other honorary nationalities. “For example, after the discussion in the KOP, we gave the footballers exceptional naturalization without even having to meet the criteria of the program, because they had to do with their participation in the National team. “And it may have been for relations with Qatar.”
Asked if the Council of Ministers should evaluate in its minutes why we give such honorary naturalization to specific individuals, as in the case of a student in Cyprus who brought investments, Mr. Silikiotis said he does not remember this case.
“Maybe now from what I understand because of Qatar's investments, the relations it had with Qatar, now I do not remember details, but you are right there must be an element, because I mentioned the footballers before, to say that the KOP asked them to naturalize foreigners exceptionally to staff the national team, they gave a list, it consisted of 10 people, I told them I can not do this, from them the proposal was made to approve the 4, all of whom had more than 5 years in Cyprus , there was also a justification. Someone was 7 years old that according to the law you can give him citizenship. “So you are right, even in cases where you give honorary, there must be a basic justification, as you rightly say,” he said.
Asked how the need arose for an amendment to increase the provision for spouses and minor children, Mr. Silikiotis said that he did not remember this change and considered that he did not need it even though when he became an exceptional Cypriot citizen, his minor children and his wife after some years have the right to obtain citizenship.
Asked if they had ever sought the advice of the Legal Service on this issue, that is, if one who takes naturalization exceptionally due to the provision of a high level of service to the public interest was entitled to naturalize both the wife and the minor children, Mr. Silikiotis said it would be better for the Legal Service to answer this.
The problem is to do it at the same time, which is happening today, that is, he goes to a proposal to the Council of Ministers and says he gets an exception, then his wife and his minor children get citizenship, that is wrong, he said.
Asked whether the service providers exerted pressure or persuasion to achieve the naturalization of their customers, Mr. Silikiotis said that “what I remember is what I said before, 2, 3 offices and I even named you 2, I do not remember, were a few ».
Asked about the Al Jazeera video that has been released, he said that it is wrong to have any discussion about leaks, since this leak is also in the public interest.
The government was talking about targeting and looking for leaks, but the truth is that many times it is necessary to take advantage of these publications, to correct the bad ones and to deal with the issues of corruption and the fact that it has an AKEL MP, let me tell you that “Whoever is involved and whoever is involved in these things, no matter how high, must face the consequences of his actions,” he said.
“This thing hurts me the most, because from the moment we criticize or have criticized and continue to practice for these abuses that have been done for this program, I think it is worse that an executive, a member of parliament, is involved in such processes. AKEL “ , he said. He stated that the society in general must approach the issue decisively and noted that in AKEL “we dealt with it quickly and decisively, and from there on let the whole world judge us”.