CYPRUS: Former minister says passport given to Malaysian fugitive should be revoked

Former Cyprus Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos said the government should revoke the passport given to a Malaysian fugitive, wanted for one of the biggest financial scams in history.

Hasikos, who served as Interior Minister when the passport was issued in 2015 Low Taek Jho, said the government was not aware of any wrongdoing at the time.

The Malaysian ‘conman’ who is wanted by his country’s authorities, the USA and Interpol. He secured a Cypriot passport through the Citizenship for Investment Scheme.

Hasikos said that at the time Interpol and the Cyprus Police had given him a clean slate, while the Bank of Cyprus had confirmed his money came from legitimate sources.

Low Taek Jho is allegedly involved in a multi-billion-dollar scandal that broke out in 2015 when he was managing an investment firm named 1Malaysia Development Berhad headed by the then prime minister of Malaysia Najib Razak.

According to a Bloomberg report, Low allegedly created a series of shell companies through which he channelled hundreds of millions, many of which ended up in his accounts.

According to an expose by Cypriot daily Politis, as soon as the scandal broke out in 2015, in which 30 executives of the US investment firm Goldman Sacs were said to be involved, Low submitted a request to become a Cypriot citizen in exchange for a EUR 5 mln investment through the international law firm Henley & Partners. Low had bought a villa in Ayia Napa.

The 1MDB fund was set up in 2009 by Razak as a vehicle to drive the country to growth and boost the public wealth. Razak was arrested on 19 September 2018 and is faced with 32 charges of fraud and money laundering.

Initially, the fund’s goals were to raise USD 8 bln in bonds with the contribution of Goldman Sachs. Today, due to its unfortunate management, it has managed to accumulate a debt of USD 11.73 bln with US authorities saying that at least USD 4.5 bln has been stolen.

The ex-adviser to Prime Minister Razak is the number one suspect, in a money laundering case involving more than USD 400 mln in embezzled funds through a US bank account.

According to the Singapore daily The Straits Times, Lows is in negotiations with the US Department of Justice to return about USD 1 bln to settle some cases relating to the 1MDB, pending before a California court since 2016.

Low is reportedly hiding away in China, with the country not exhibiting the will to extradite him to Malaysia.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to set right any cases in which passports were given to people who do not meet the criteria.

Those who have obtained citizenship in violation of the strict criteria required will be stripped of their nationality. End of story, Anastasiades told reporters on Monday.

He noted that, after the government had spotted some cases in which passports – under normal circumstances – should not have been issued, tougher criteria were introduced in February 2019.

Anastasiades confirmed that the passports given to people who clearly should not have been given Cypriot citizenship will be revoked, such as those of Cambodia’s political elite.

He argued, however, that the investment scheme should not be criticised so harshly by the opposition.

If the four so many thousands of citizenships given, 10 or 15 are given to people who may not live up to expectations, I do not think it is right to defame the country internationally.

Source: The Financial Mirror