Guardian: Cyprus Selling EU Citizenship to Super-Rich Russians and Ukrainians

The Guardian newspaper has revealed that a number of Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs have obtained Cypriot, and therefore European citizenship, in exchange for billions in investment.

The British paper says it has in its possession a leaked list of names of a citizenship-by-investment program, which according to the Cypriot government, has generated more than €4bn in investment since 2013. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of beneficiaries, the Guardian notes.

Prior to 2013, Cypriot citizenship was granted on a discretionary basis by ministers, in a less formal version of the current arrangement.

“Golden Visa” schemes, whereby countries sell passports or citizenship in exchange for investment, are almost universally carried out in complete secrecy. Only Malta has ever published the names of its applicants.

Several of the hundreds of names seen by The Guardian are prominent business people, or individuals with political influence in their home countries.

Leonid Lebedev, a former member of the Russian parliament and the sole owner of the Sintez Group, is one of hundreds of Russian nationals named as having acquired Cypriot citizenship. His personal wealth is estimated by Forbes to be more than $1.2bn.

Another politically sensitive name is that of Alexander Ponomarenko, a Russian industrialist worth an estimated $3bn, who in 2011 reportedly paid $350m for a palace allegedly constructed for the private benefit of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Ponomarenko said “In 2016 I acquired the Cyprus citizenship by investment scheme and presently I am a citizen of the two countries – Russia and Cyprus.” He added that the purchase of the palace was a “private deal”.

Gennady Bogolyubov and his former business partner Igor Kolomoisky founded PrivatBank in the 1990s, and were its biggest shareholders until it was nationalised by the Ukrainian government in 2016. The Ukrainian central bank alleged that the two partners had illicitly extracted £4.2bn from PrivatBank.

Nikita Mishin, founder and commercial director at Severstaltrans, and former member of the Expert Council of Russia, a non-governmental body of advisers, did not dispute that he had acquired Cypriot citizenship in 2015.

Konstantin Stetsenko is the managing partner of Invest Capital Ukraine, which was commissioned to advise former Ukrainian prime minister Petro Poroshenko on the sale of his confectionary business. A representative said that ICU had operations in Cyprus and that “Stetsenko’s citizenship is a helpful addition in those circumstances.” He acquired citizenship this year.

Konstantin Grigorishin is the largest investor in the Ukrainian utilities firm Energy Standard Group, and according to Forbes, an avid swimmer, and owner of a $300m art collection. His opponents describe him as an oligarch based on alleged links to Poroshenko, which he denies.

He declined to comment on whether he had obtained Cypriot citizenship in 2010.

The billionaire Teddy Sagi obtained Cypriot citizenship in 2009. The majority shareholder of the company that owns Camden Market, also founded the gambling software and services company Playtech. A representative for Sagi did not dispute his acquisition of citizenship, but questioned whether a Cypriot passport could be fairly called a “Golden Visa”.

Source: The Guardian