The Cyprus government is withdrawing golden passports bought by 26 wealthy investors and their families.
The passports offer a backdoor into Europe by giving non-Europeans the same rights as EU citizens in return from investing £1.7 million on the Mediterranean sunshine island.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides has announced the unnamed individuals who were given the passports by mistake include nine Russians, eight Cambodians and five Chinese. Others are from Malaysia, Kenya and Iran.
The Cyprus government is also re-running background checks on all golden passports issued before 2018, when stricter security checks were introduced.
“In 2013, when the investment plan started, there were control procedures related to the fact that the investments should be carried out through the Cypriot banking institutions in order to ensure that all incoming funds and stakeholders pass through the money laundering controls implemented by the Cypriot authorities,” said the minister.
“These audits have been carried out and made until present on the basis of the relevant instructions issued by the Central Bank of Cyprus, and applicants are obliged to include in their requests copies of transaction transfers; this condition of the investment program is fully in line with the EU-Directives on combating money laundering, and is also recognized by the European Commission’s report on schemes for granting citizenship and a residence permit for EU investors.
“Also, there was an obligation for a clean criminal record, an obligation required by the authority that applicants should not be included in a list of persons whose assets are ordained to be frozen within the EU, and information received from the State’s services is also taken into account.
“Since then we have taken many further important measures to strengthen controls.”
The move follows concerns raised in the EU about checks on who buys golden passports, with fears prospective purchasers could be involved in organised crime or tax evasion.
The passports allow holders visa-free travel within the EU.
The passports facing withdrawal come from a probe into nine investment cases out of more than 2,000 issued by the Cyprus Government.
Similar checks are also taking place in other EU countries offering golden passports, including Malta, Portugal and Bulgaria.
The Cyprus scheme was launched in 2013.