How rich Russians turned Cyprus into ‘Moscow on the Med’
31 Aug 2020

More than 1,000 Russians obtained a Cypriot passport through Cyprus’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, Al Jazeera can reveal after an investigation of more than 1,400 leaked documents.

The Cyprus Papers consist of 1,471 applications, containing the names of 2,544 people who received a Cypriot passport between late 2017 and late 2019.

The documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit showed that almost half of the applications came from Russia, showing how the country’s political and business elite, billionaires and criminals have been buying their place in the EU, granting them the ability to travel, work and bank in the whole of the EU.

Most of what the $2.5m applicants need to invest to qualify for citizenship is put into real estate.

Upon arrival at Larnaca International Airport, signs in Russian offering investment opportunities, luxury properties and adverts for the many agents wanting to handle the citizenship application, show just how important Russia has become to the scheme.

‘They do not trust their own Russian state’

Many Russians who applied for Cypriot citizenship made their money through political and economic relationships with their own government, with several having held official state positions making them PEPs – politically exposed people.

Under new rules introduced last year, PEPs are now banned from buying passports but those who already bought them may keep them.

Among those that acquired passports are former Deputy Minister Igor Reva and former member of the Russian parliament Vadim Moshkovich. The list also includes the former boss of a subsidiary of the state-owned railways, Vitaly Evdokimenko, and Vladimir Khristenko, who comes from a highly politically connected family, with his stepmother serving as the current deputy prime minister of Russia.

The reason these politically connected people look towards Cyprus, and by extension, the EU, is because they fear their possessions might be at risk in their home country, Nigel Gould-Davies, a Russia expert at the United Kingdom’s International Institute for Strategic Affairs, told Al Jazeera.

“They do not trust their own Russian state to leave them or their assets alone,” Gould-Davies said.

“They are looking for a place with the rule of law absent in their own country and that also will not scrutinise their applications too closely, make it easy for them to send their money and grant them citizenship.”

Circumventing sanctions

However, it is not just their own government they worry about.

Since 2014, the United States and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russia, in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, cyber-attacks, corruption and human rights abuses.

“Particular spikes take place when political tensions become more severe in Russia, when people trust the state even less to keep them safe or leave them alone, they look for alternatives,” according to Gould-Davies.

“A good example of that would be the Salisbury nerve agent attack in the UK in March 2018. The UK and US began to impose new sanctions and immediately we’ve got a big spike of capital flight out of Russia, looking for safe places,” he added.

Read more at Al Jazeera

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