Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry

Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry
A woman walks past a Cypriot flag in Cyprus that said on Friday more than half the passports issued to rich foreigners in an investment scheme were illegal. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 April 2021

Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry

Half of Cyprus passports in cash scheme were illegal — inquiry
  • Over 3,000 foreign investors who paid a minimum 2 million euros were given Cypriot passports between 2013 & 2019
  • In "tens" of cases, the commission recommended rescinding citizenship without giving details

NICOSIA: More than half the passports Cyprus issued to rich foreigners in an investment scheme were illegal, a government-appointed board of inquiry has found.
More than 3,000 foreign investors who stumped up a minimum of 2 million euros were given Cypriot passports between 2013 and 2019, with the scheme proving popular with Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese and Cambodians.
The program was terminated last year after a corruption scandal, embarrassing the island’s center-right administration which had championed the scheme before admitting it was flawed.
“Our interim report gives statistical data concerning illegal naturalizations — those which, in the view of the committee, were issued by exceeding the boundaries of the law — and those are 51.81% of the total,” Myron Nicolatos, who chaired the inquiry, told reporters on Friday.
He said some others were within the proper legal framework but did not meet some legal criteria which applied at the time.
In “tens” of cases, the commission recommended rescinding citizenship, Nicolatos added, without giving details.
His report has been passed to the attorney-general’s office and not been made public.
“The interim report notes possible criminal, disciplinary or administrative responsibilities which will be investigated by the relevant authorities,” said Nicolatos, who was president of the Supreme Court until he retired in 2020.
Panned by critics as opaque and fraught with the risk of money-laundering, the scheme had been staunchly defended by the government through a slew of mainly foreign media reports and European Union misgivings.
The authorities were forced to unceremoniously dump it after the Al Jazeera network secretly filmed a former speaker of parliament and others allegedly offering to help a person with a criminal record obtain a passport.
He resigned, but denied any wrongdoing, saying his comments were taken out of context.
The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus over the scheme last year, arguing that granting EU citizenship for pre-determined payments, without any genuine link to the state, concerned undermined EU citizenship.
Investigators probed 2,478 passports issued from 2007 to 2016, and an additional 417, deemed high-risk, until 2020.


US envoy in Sudan in a bid to resolve dam dispute

US envoy in Sudan in a bid to resolve dam dispute
U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, left, meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the foreign ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (AP)
Updated 32 sec ago

US envoy in Sudan in a bid to resolve dam dispute

US envoy in Sudan in a bid to resolve dam dispute
  • The dispute now centers on how quickly Ethiopia should fill and replenish the reservoir and how much water it releases downstream in case of a multi-year drought

CAIRO: The US envoy for the Horn of Africa was in Sudan on Friday, the latest stop on his tour of the region aimed at resolving the decade-long dispute over Ethiopia’s massive dam on the Nile River’s main tributary.
During his two-day visit, Jeffrey Feltman is expected to hold talks with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and foreign and irrigation ministers, the state-run news agency reported.
Feltman is to discuss the ongoing dispute between Ethiopia on one hand, and Sudan and Egypt on the other over Addis Ababa’s filling of the reservoir on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. The dispute has exacerbated concerns of an escalation into a military conflict that could threaten the entire region.
The dispute now centers on how quickly Ethiopia should fill and replenish the reservoir and how much water it releases downstream in case of a multi-year drought. The latest round of African Union-brokered negotiations in April failed to make progress.
Egypt and Sudan argue that Ethiopia’s plan to add 13.5 billion cubic meters of water in 2021 to the dam’s reservoir is a threat to them. Cairo and Khartoum have called for the US, the UN, and EU to help reach a legally binding deal. The agreement would spell out how the dam is operated and filled, based on international law and norms governing cross-border rivers.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water supplies, fears a devastating impact if the dam is operated without taking its needs into account. Ethiopia says the $5 billion dam is essential, arguing the vast majority of its population lacks electricity.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on the dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in Khartoum, from where it winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.


Israeli police shoot dead 2 Palestinians

Israeli police shoot  dead 2 Palestinians
Israeli police run during clashes with Palestinians at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque amid tension over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes in Jerusalem's Old City, May 7, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 8 min 24 sec ago

Israeli police shoot dead 2 Palestinians

Israeli police shoot  dead 2 Palestinians
  • Friday’s killings follow days of clashes and shootings. On Sunday, a 19-year-old Israeli was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting at the Tapuah junction bus stop, also in the northern West Bank

JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces on Friday killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio had opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank, police said, the latest flareup in violence after clashes in east Jerusalem.
The exchange of gunfire at the Salem base outside the northern West Bank town of Jenin came as tensions soar in annexed East Jerusalem over an eviction threat hanging over four Palestinian families.
Tamir Pero, spokesman of Israel’s border police, said Palestinian attackers armed with rifles began running toward officers and shooting.
Pero said the officers “took cover behind concrete blocks and returned fire,” killing two attackers and critically wounding a third before any officers were injured.
Guns, knives and a large supply of ammunition were found on the men, police said.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “not a country, but a terrorist base,” and in a televised speech said that fighting the Jewish state was “everyone’s duty.”
Friday’s killings follow days of clashes and shootings. On Sunday, a 19-year-old Israeli was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting at the Tapuah junction bus stop, also in the northern West Bank.
Israeli security forces announced they had arrested Montasser Shalabi, 44, near Ramallah, on suspicion of carrying out the attack. Palestinian sources said Shalabi is a dual US national.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops killed a 16-year-old Palestinian when they opened fire on protesters throwing petrol bombs near Nablus.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement: “We hold the Israeli government responsible for this escalation and its repercussions.” He urged Washington to pressure Israel “so that matters do not reach a stage that cannot be controlled.”


Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash in Jerusalem

Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash in Jerusalem
Updated 07 May 2021

Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash in Jerusalem

Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash in Jerusalem
  • Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 53 people were wounded in clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli police late Friday at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a major holy site sacred to Muslims and Jews, in an escalation of weeks of violence in Jerusalem that has reverberated across the region.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 53 people were wounded in clashes with police there and elsewhere in Jerusalem, including 23 who were hospitalized. It says most were wounded in the face and eyes by rubber-coated bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades. Israel said six police officers were wounded.
Earlier Friday, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the men opened fire on a base belonging to Israel’s paramilitary Border Police force in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a series of deadly confrontations in recent weeks that has coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. More unrest appears likely next week.
Tensions have soared in recent weeks in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians. At the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, clashes have resumed due to Israel’s threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, who have been embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about the heightened tensions and called on all sides to work to de-escalate them. It also expressed concern about the threatened evictions.
“It’s critical to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace. And that would include evictions, settlement activity, and home demolitions,” US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters in Washington.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. The site is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and revere it as the spot where the biblical Temples stood. It has long been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Israeli police deployed in large numbers as Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the site. It was unclear what sparked the violence, but videos circulating online showed worshippers throwing chairs, shoes and rocks at police, who fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets to disperse them. Smaller clashes broke out elsewhere in Jerusalem.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement.
Earlier, some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
Neighboring Jordan, which serves as the custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, had earlier warned Israel against further “provocative” steps, while Israel’s archenemy Iran encouraged the violence.
In the attack on Friday morning, Israeli police said three attackers fired on the base near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. The Border Police and an Israeli soldier returned fire, killing two of the men and wounding the third, who was evacuated to a hospital.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more violence in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat Al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Iran was meanwhile marking its own Quds, or Jerusalem, Day on Friday. The national holiday typically features anti-Israel protests and fiery speeches by Iranian leaders predicting Israel’s demise.
“The downward and declining movement of the Zionist regime has begun and will not stop,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised address. He called for continuing armed “resistance” in the Palestinian territories and urged Muslim nations support it.
This year, Ramadan has coincided with an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence focused on Jerusalem.
On Thursday, Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting earlier this week in the West Bank that killed an Israeli and wounded two others. The day before, Israeli troops shot and killed a 16-year-old Palestinian near the West Bank city of Nablus. The military said several Palestinians had thrown firebombs toward soldiers.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.
The Palestinians view east Jerusalem — which includes major holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims — as their capital, and its fate is one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict. In a call to Palestine TV, President Mahmoud Abbas praised the “courageous stand” of the protesters and said Israel bore full responsibility for the violence.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry had earlier accused the Palestinians of seizing on the threatened evictions, which it described as a “real-estate dispute between private parties,” in order to incite violence.
“The (Palestinian Authority) and Palestinian terror groups will bear full responsibility for the violence emanating from their actions. The Israel police will ensure public order is maintained,” it tweeted earlier in the day.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Al-Aqsa, said “Israel’s continuation of its illegal practices and provocative steps” in the city is a “dangerous game.”
“Building and expanding settlements, confiscating lands, demolishing homes and deporting Palestinians from their homes are illegal practices that perpetuate the occupation and undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace, which is a regional and international necessity,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi tweeted.
The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and opposes Israel’s existence, has egged on the violence, and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired rockets in support of the protesters.


Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 
Updated 07 May 2021

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 
  • Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf: Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Entesar Al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing
  • Locals said the abduction was part of a moral crackdown on artists and actresses as well as spaces where there was mixing between women and men

AL-MUKALLA: A Yemeni model who was abducted by the Houthis is going to be subjected to a virginity test, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The rights group urged the militia to immediately halt its plans.

“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Entesar Al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing,” Lynn Maalouf,  deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said. “She is being punished by the authorities for challenging the social norms of Yemen’s deeply patriarchal society which entrench discrimination against women.” 

The Houthis have banned media outlets in areas under their control and social media users from publishing or sharing information related to Al-Hammadi’s case.

They have also banned her lawyers from speaking to international news outlets.

“The Houthi de facto authorities have a deplorable track record of arbitrarily detaining people on baseless charges – to silence or punish critics, activists, journalists and members of religious minorities – as well as subjecting them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” Maalouf added.

Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal, the model’s lawyer, said a Houthi prosecutor had ordered the ban on media coverage and banned him or any other person from speaking to the media.

“This is against the law,” he told Arab News. “But there is no problem if this will lead to her release.”

The 20-year old model and actress and two other actresses were on their way to a movie shoot on Feb. 20 when armed rebels abducted them and imprisoned them in Sanaa.

Their abduction provoked condemnation and drew media attention, with rights activists demanding that the militia be designated a terrorist organization.

Irritated by media coverage of the case, the Houthis dismissed a prosecutor who had ordered the model’s release, put Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement and pressured Al-Kamal into dropping the case.

But he vowed to keep defending her and called for her release, even on bail, saying she was always crying and had threatened a hunger strike to force the Houthis into freeing her.

“I am her lawyer and will keep defending her until the last moment,” he added. He said that other local lawyers had agreed to join him in defending the model.

The Houthis have not presented clear charges against Al-Hammadi, but locals said the abduction was part of a moral crackdown on artists and actresses as well as spaces where there was mixing between women and men.

Meanwhile, fighting intensified in the provinces of Marib, Jouf, Hodeidah and Taiz, days after the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths announced that peace efforts to end the war were crumbling.

In Hodeidah, government forces clashed with the Houthis in Hays and in contested areas inside the city of Hodeidah, local media said on Friday.

The Joint Forces, three major military units on the country’s west coast, said that 68 Houthis were killed and 176 were wounded.

A truce under the Stockholm Agreement, signed in late 2018, has largely failed to stop hostilities in Hodeidah. Local rights groups that document war casualties said that hundreds of civilians have been killed due to landmines and shelling.

In Marib, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that troops had clashed with the Houthis in Mashjah and Al-Kasara as the rebels advanced toward Marib city.

State media showed dozens of military vehicles and fighters heading to the battlefield to push back the Houthis.

Thousands of combatants have been killed since early February, when the Houthis resumed an offensive to seize control of Marib.


Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq
Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq
  • Cooperation against Daesh will ‘likely need to be on terms dictated by Baghdad,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently announced plans to set up a military base in Iraq’s northern Dohuk region

ANKARA: Turkey has reopened its consulate in Mosul, in northern Iraq. The consulate has been closed for the past seven years, since Daesh seized control of the city.

At that time, Daesh held 49 consulate staff — including then-Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz — hostage for over three months.

Ankara has announced several times in recent years that it intended to reopen its consulate in Mosul, a city that was once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey recently appointed a new ambassador to Iraq as part of its efforts to boost its relations with its neighbor, and Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently announced plans to set up a military base in Iraq’s northern Dohuk region, in addition to a number of military outposts that Turkey has held in the Kurdistan Region since the mid-Nineties.

The aim of the new base is to restrict the movement of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Dohuk lies on a strategic route to the Qandil Mountains, where the militants’ hideouts are based.

On April 14, a missile hit a Turkish military base in Bashiqa, near Mosul, killing a Turkish soldier. On the same day, Erbil International Airport, which hosts US coalition forces, was hit by an explosives-laden drone.

In late April, the Turkish army launched a new offensive against PKK bases in northern Iraq, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited a military base in the Kurdistan Region.

However, that operation and Akar’s visit — which took place “without coordination or prior approval from authorities” — sparked anger from Baghdad. The Iraqi government sent a formal letter of protest to Turkey’s ambassador on May 3.

Nicholas A. Heras, senior analyst at the Newlines Institute in Washington, said Turkish military operations in areas south of the Kurdistan Region are problematic because Baghdad is strongly opposed to a larger and more active Turkish military footprint in Iraq.
“Baghdad might be open to intelligence cooperation with Ankara for counter-Daesh operations in areas around Mosul, but that cooperation would likely need to be on terms dictated by Baghdad,” Heras told Arab News.

To what extent Turkey’s expanded military presence in northern Iraq will enable it to launch its long-rumored operation against the PKK in Sinjar is still a matter of concern, considering the geopolitical dynamics of the region.

For Heras, any Turkish move against Sinjar would be a non-starter for Baghdad because there is a large People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) presence in that area.

“Many PMF groups are powerful in Baghdad and are resolutely opposed to any moves by Turkey to expand its military reach in Iraq,” he said.

The PMF, an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia umbrella group which employs local PKK militias in its cadres, is active in northern Iraq and has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in recent times.

Ankara has repeatedly announced that it will not allow Sinjar to become a second Qandil — a stronghold for the PKK.

Turkey’s February 10 military operation against the PKK on Gare Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan raised concerns that it was planning an operation in Sinjar, threatening the existence of Iran-backed groups in the area.

It is no secret that Iran strongly opposes Turkey’s military presence in Iraq and sees Turkey’s potential operation in Sinjar as opposing its own geopolitical interests.

Iran-backed militias are concerned by the growing rapprochement between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that controls the Sinjar area. Both parties have urged the PKK and Iran-backed militias to leave the region.

“The Iranians view Turkey, especially (Turkish President Reycep Tayyip) Erdogan, as a rival for influence in the Levant. There’s expanding Turkish influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria that the Iranians want to limit,” Heras said. “Whenever and wherever possible, the Iranians will try to position local forces, such as those in Sinjar, to box Ankara out of more influence in the Levant.”