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.


Iranian president slams new election criteria

Iranian president slams new election criteria
Updated 11 May 2021

Iranian president slams new election criteria

Iranian president slams new election criteria
  • Rouhani: Age restrictions ‘too narrow’
  • Critics say comments are charade to conjure mirage of democracy

LONDON: Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani has slammed the country’s electoral criteria as “too narrow” ahead of June elections.

But dissidents and critics say his comments are a charade designed to give legitimacy to an autocratic regime and conjure a mirage of democracy in the country.

Rouhani, who is set to relinquish his position before the election, said Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council had “no legal authority” to impose new criteria excluding candidates aged younger than 40 and older than 75. 

He urged the Interior Ministry, which oversees electoral registrations, to bypass the council’s new age controls.

Their most noticeable effect will be the prevention of Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, minister of communications and information technology, from standing for president. 

Critics have long said the Guardian Council has the power to block candidates based on other criteria, including simple disapproval by the country’s religious leadership.

Council member Siamak Raphik defended the age criteria, saying the body is “the sole custodian of the eligibility of candidates.” 

Iran’s list of approved electoral candidates will be revealed on May 26 following an appeal period.

Before the last presidential election in 2017, 1,636 people registered to run, a massive increase compared with 686 in 2013. But after inspection by the Guardian Council, just six candidates were allowed to stand. 

And despite many women putting their names forward during elections, not a single one has ever been allowed to stand in Iran’s history.

This year’s election will take place amid widespread public disillusionment, a fourth wave of coronavirus and middle-class animosity, meaning low voter turnout is highly likely. The turnout in last year’s parliamentary election dropped to a record low of 42 percent.

Currently, more than 30 political figures have declared a campaign to run for president, including key members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Several major politicians have yet to announce their intentions, as they test support and seek final intelligence on whether they have sufficient approval. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said he wants the eventual president to be “young and pious.”


US Treasury Targets Hezbollah finance official and shadow bankers in Lebanon

US Treasury Targets Hezbollah finance official and shadow bankers in Lebanon
Updated 11 May 2021

US Treasury Targets Hezbollah finance official and shadow bankers in Lebanon

US Treasury Targets Hezbollah finance official and shadow bankers in Lebanon

The US Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed sanctions on seven Lebanese nationals it said were connected to the Iran-backed militant Hezbollah movement and its financial firm, Al-Qard al-Hassan (AQAH).

The Treasury in a statement said it had blacklisted Ibrahim Ali Daher, the chief of Hezbollah's Central Finance Unit, as a specially designated global terrorist alongside six people it accused of using the cover of personal accounts at Lebanese banks to evade sanctions targeting AQAH.

"Hezbollah continues to abuse the Lebanese financial sector and drain Lebanon’s financial resources at an already dire time," Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

The Treasury also blacklisted Ahmad Mohamad Yazbeck, Abbas Hassan Gharib, Wahid Mahmud Subayti, Mostafa Habib Harb, Ezzat Youssef Akar, and Hasan Chehadeh Othman in connection with Hezbollah and its financial firm.

The move freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those who engage in certain transactions with the designated individuals also risk being hit with secondary sanctions.


UK FM condemns Gaza rockets, not Israel

UK FM condemns Gaza rockets, not Israel
Updated 11 May 2021

UK FM condemns Gaza rockets, not Israel

UK FM condemns Gaza rockets, not Israel
  • Dozens of Palestinians killed, hundreds wounded in recent days
  • Failure to condemn Israel ‘unsurprising’ and ‘appalling,’ Palestine Solidarity Campaign tells Arab News

LONDON: The UK’s foreign secretary has been criticized for condemning rocket fire into Israel but not its subsequent bombing of Gaza, which has killed dozens of people — including children — or its injuring of hundreds of Palestinians in Jerusalem in the days prior.

Dominic Raab’s tweet — which was retweeted by Middle East and North Africa Minister James Cleverly — said the UK “condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and locations within Israel. The ongoing violence in Jerusalem and Gaza must stop. We need an immediate de-escalation on all sides, and end to targeting of civilian populations.”

Roua Naboulsi, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s media and communications officer, told Arab News that it is “unsurprising but nonetheless appalling” that Raab chose to condemn rocket fire from Gaza while “ignoring Israel’s systematic targeting and murder of civilians and children, its ongoing ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, and its body of laws and policies that discriminate against Palestinians and deny them their rights.”

She added: “Human Rights Watch recently concurred that these laws and policies amount to the crime of apartheid. Israel can only practice these crimes with the support and complicity of governments like the UK’s. It’s high time for this to change. The (UK) government must finally speak out against these crimes against humanity and hold Israel accountable.”

After days of violence in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Palestinian militants on Monday fired rockets toward Jerusalem and southern Israel, saying it was punishment for the violence endured by Palestinians in the city.

Amnesty International on Monday said Israel had used “repeated, unwarranted and excessive force” against “largely peaceful Palestinian protesters in recent days” in Jerusalem, resulting in 840 being injured.

Israeli police officers were seen firing tear gas and stun grenades, with several landing inside Al-Aqsa Mosque. Social media footage showed Israeli crowds celebrating as fires raged in the holy site. 

British opposition MPs condemned Israel’s bombardment. “Seeing footage of Israeli airstrikes kill men, women and children in Gaza, I send my solidarity, my love and my prayers to the Palestinian people,” tweeted Labour MP Zarah Sultana.

“These brutal attacks must be condemned and Israel’s illegal settlements, occupation, and siege must end.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told Arab News: “The international community needs to make all the parties to this conflict aware of their obligations. Primarily, Israel should never have been in the process of forcible evictions, the building of settlements and the heavy-handed, violent manner in which it dealt with protests and its aggression outside Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

He said: “Hamas sending rockets into Israel indiscriminately is wrong, the foreign secretary is right to condemn that, but what we know from painful past experience is that Israeli bombing of Gaza isn’t precise against those carrying out the rocketing. What we’ve seen in previous wars is Israel ‘mowing the lawn,’ where it ends up killing hundreds and thousands of Palestinians and destroying huge areas of the Gaza Strip.”

Doyle added: “It’s vital that the international community holds every party to account here. The failure to hold parties to account — especially Israel, which often gets a ‘green light’ for its actions in the past — has led us to the situation we’re in now.”


US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’

US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’
Updated 11 May 2021

US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’

US says UN team monitoring Iraq elections will be ‘world’s largest’

NEW YORK: The UN monitoring team for October elections in Iraq will be the largest technical election assistance team in the world, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Tuesday.
She said the team would be big enough to deter fraud, increase turnout, and return trust to Iraq's democracy.
Iraqis will go to the polls more than three years after the last vote to elect members of the Council of Representatives, who in turn elect a prime minister and president.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi took office a year ago after months of protests led to the collapse of the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Thomas-Greenfield thanked Al-Kadhimi for his efforts to cement some trust in the government, which she said was needed for progress to be made on the economy or holding elections.


US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks

US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks
Updated 11 May 2021

US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks

US contractor leaves Iraq base over rocket attacks
  • At least three foreign subcontractors and one Iraqi subcontractor have been wounded
  • Baghdad sent its national security adviser to Balad base last week to try to reassure the American firm

SAMARRA: US contractor Lockheed Martin has withdrawn its staff from an Iraq base where it had been maintaining the Iraqi army’s F-16 fighter jets, military sources said, after a spate of rocket attacks.
At least five attacks have targeted the Balad air base, where other US companies including Sallyport are also present, since the start of the year.
At least three foreign subcontractors and one Iraqi subcontractor have been wounded.
The attacks are rarely claimed, and when they are it is by obscure groups that experts say are a facade for Iran-backed Iraqi factions.
“On Monday morning, 72 Lockheed Martin technicians left,” a high-ranking Iraqi military official told AFP, while a second confirmed the move.
“The technical team in charge of maintenance of the F-16s left the Balad base for Irbil,” the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the first source added, requesting anonymity.
Baghdad had sent its national security adviser Qassim Al-Araji to the Balad base last week to try to reassure the American firm, days after the latest salvo.
Tahsin Al-Khafaji, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, said Lockheed Martin would “continue to advise the Iraqi air force, even remotely,” citing contractual obligations.
The United States has provided Iraq with 34 F-16s, all stationed at Balad. It has also trained Iraqi pilots, while American contractors have been in charge of the fleet’s upkeep.
Irbil was long considered safer than the rest of Iraq, but the situation has changed recently and Washington has deployed a C-RAM rocket defense system as well as Patriot missiles there, as it has done in Baghdad to protect its troops and diplomats.
In mid-April, pro-Iran fighters sent an explosives-packed drone crashing into Irbil airport in the first reported use of such a weapon against a base housing US troops in Iraq.
The Pentagon has warned that attacks against the US-led coalition rose in the first three months of this year.
“In Iraq, Iran-aligned militias increased their attacks targeting coalition positions and assets this quarter, prompting a temporary departure of US contractors supporting Iraq’s F-16 program,” it said in a report to Congress released earlier this month.