The Cyprus Investment Programme, which was implemented by the Cyprus Government in 2013 primarily aimed to attract foreign investments into Cyprus and to boost the country's economy, following the financial crisis of 2013.
The Programme has received a great deal of criticism over the previous years, especially from European political bodies. In order to combat the criticism, the Cyprus Government introduced various amendments to strengthen the Programme's integrity. These amendments are aimed at securing the Investors' Interests and to further regulate the Programme. Nevertheless, the criticism has not abated and, as a result, the Government has decided to take even more drastic action to enhance the status of the scheme via several measures and thus render the CIP beyond reproach.
The Cyprus Government's underlying purpose behind these latest amendments as emphasised by the Minister of Interior, Mr Nikos Nouris, is to deflect the criticism that the Programme facilitates corruption and money laundering, and to put in place new regulations that will leave the Programme unimpeachable and render it more trustworthy. The amendments aim at further regulating, supervising and tightening the regulations of the CIP.
The most significant amendments, that have been approved by the Council of Ministers and voted by the House of Parliament in Cyprus as published in the Official Cyprus Gazette on Tuesday18th August 2020, are as follows:
A new category has been added: that of Honorary Naturalization, for reasons of public interest. Honorary Naturalization may be granted to the following categories of foreigners:
(i) Athletes for participation in the national sports teams of the Republic of Cyprus, on the recommendation of the Cyprus Sports Organization (CMO);
(ii) Clergy at the highest levels of the clergy hierarchy of the churches of the religious groups of the Republic of Cyprus, at the request of the representatives of the religious groups in the House of Representatives;
(iii) Persons who have provided high-level services to the Republic of Cyprus in the context of transnational and diplomatic relations, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
(iv) Academics and scientists who conduct long-term research in the Republic of Cyprus or who present multiannual scientific work on Cyprus, on the recommendation of the Cyprus Academy of Science and Arts
(v) People involved in Art and Culture who, through their work, have provided exceptional services to Cyprus, following the recommendations of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth.
It is clear that Citizenship can be revoked if any of the economic criteria or requirements of the Programme are no longer met.
Mandatory donation increased to €200.000
The financial criteria remain the same. There has, however, been a change with regards to the mandatory donation. The mandatory donation which used to be €75.000 to the Cyprus Land Development Corporation and €75.000 to the Research and Innovation Foundation has now been increased, thus further enhancing the Programme's socially responsible character.
Any Applicant, following the approval of the application for naturalization by the Council of Ministers, needs to donate an amount of at least €100.000 to one of the following causes:
a) the Research and Innovation Foundation; or
b) the Service of Industry and Technology, in order to materialize targeted funding plans for small and very small businesses; or
c) the Funds for Renewable Sources of Energy and Conservation of Energy; or
d) the National Solidarity Fund,
To donate €100.000 to the Cyprus Land Development Corporation to promote housing projects for affordable housing.
Controls imposed on the eligibility of applicants
The Government has chosen to continue to exclude from the Programme persons who themselves or whose family members fall into the categories of high-risk. They have imposed further control on the eligibility of the Applicants and/or the Applicants' family members. This eliminates a large group of high net worth individuals which, however, at the same time enhances the Programme's trustworthiness and credibility.
The following categories are considered as High-Risk:
(a) Applicants whose assets have been subject to a seizure order within the EU;
(b) Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), although there has been a change in the definition of who is considered a PEP. Under the new regulations, a PEP is a person who holds a political position at the time of submission of the Application or a person who has held a political position during the last twelve months prior to the date of submission of the application;
(c) Applicants sentenced for a serious criminal offence which carries a sentence of five years or more or for any other serious offence or offences that involve moral obscenity. In the event that a person has been sentenced in another country, the offence he committed must be a criminal offence in Cyprus that carries a sentence of imprisonment;
(d) Applicants subject to criminal investigation, whether in Cyprus or abroad, in relation to a serious criminal offence which carries a sentence of five years or more or for any other serious criminal offence or which involves moral obscenity;
(e) Applicants who are affiliated with any person or legal entity or organisation against which sanctions were imposed by the European Union and these sanctions are still in force, such as shareholders and high-ranking officials of such companies;
(f) Applicants who were, but who no longer are, affiliated with any physical person or legal entity against which sanctions were imposed by the European Union and these sanctions are still in force, such as shareholders and high-ranking officials of companies included in the sanctions list, provided they were affiliated with these companies when the sanctions were enforced;
(g) Applicants who have been subjected to sanctions by the European Union or the United Nations and such sanctions are still in force or were in force up to twelve months prior to the submission of the application;
(h) Applicants who are affiliated with any physical person or legal entity against which sanctions were imposed by the European Union or the United Nations and these sanctions are still in force or were in force up to 12 months prior to the submission of the application;
(i) Applicants who were affiliated with any physical person or legal entity against which the EU or the United Nations have imposed restrictive measures and such restrictive measures are in force or were in force up to twelve months prior to the submission of the application, but these Applicants are no longer affiliated with these legal entities, such as shareholders and high-ranking officials of companies, provided they were affiliated to the particular companies or physical persons when the sanctions were imposed;
(j) The Applicant is wanted at a European level by Europol or at an International level by Interpol.
The validity of the Criminal Record of the Applicant has now been extended from three months to six months.
As previously required the Applicant must possess a valid Schengen visa and be a permanent resident of Cyprus for a period of at least six months and have not had a Citizenship application denied by any other European country.
Furthermore, the applicant or the applicant's family members must not have taken any actions which manifest that they accept in any way the illegal administration of the non-controlled by Government of the Republic of Cyprus areas. They must not have any official post or position there and they must not have trespassed or in any way caused any damage to immovable property located in those areas that belong to another lawful owner.
Naturalization control unit
A Naturalization Control Unit has been set up composed of suitably trained staff of the Ministry of Interior. The responsibilities of this Unit include the following:
(a) examining applications for naturalization by exception, under Section 111A of the Law;
(b) continuously verifying that persons who have obtained naturalization by exception continue to comply with the terms and conditions under which they have been granted Citizenship;
(c) drafting and publishing Guidelines, Rules or Circulars for the better implementation of the Programme;
(d) undertaking any other relevant work that contributes to the success of the purpose of the foregoing paragraphs (a) and (b),
(e) preparing an annual report in relation to the implementation of the Programme, as well as notes, clarifications and any other documents required by the Council of Ministers.
(f) The publication on the webpage of the Ministry of Interior of the above-mentioned annual report, including actual figures in relation to the approved and rejected applications that were filed and the investments under made under each category.
The intention behind these changes is to expedite the procedure of examining the Citizenship applications.
Continuous supervision and control of registered service providers
The Government introduced regulations for the further supervision of the registered Service Providers so as to ensure their compliance with the regulations for the CIP as well as sanctions for non-compliance. As previously laid down, only registered service providers can provide services in relation to the Cyprus Investment Programme. There are specific basic guiding principles which registered Service Providers are bound by and need to follow.
The Committee has been set up composed of the General Director of the Ministry of Interior, General Director of the Ministry of Finance and the representative of the Cyprus Investment Agency or their representatives as well as suitably trained staff. This committee is presided by the General Director of the Ministry of Interior. This committee will continue to supervise and oversee the process of registration of the registered Service Providers.
It is clarified that the professional relationship between the Service Provider and the client needs to be described in a written service agreement which, inter alia, sets out the rights and obligations of each party, including remuneration and the terms and conditions in the event of a dispute during the procedure. The registered Service Providers need to conduct enhanced due diligence on the Applicants in accordance with Anti Money Laundering legislation.
Furthermore, it is especially highlighted that Service Providers shall avoid any conflict of interest that may arise between them and their clients, business partners, government officials and other partners with whom they cooperate in the provision of naturalization services. Service Providers shall immediately and in writing inform the Applicant if there is a real or potential conflict of interest in the course of the provision of their services.
Funds for the investment must derive from the investor's bank account
Another notable amendment is that all funds used for the investments must be funds derived from the bank account of the investor or a company or companies of the investor based abroad. All payments need to be made to Financial Institutions in Cyprus regulated by the Cyprus Central Bank. It is understood that copies of bank remittances will have to be included in the application.
Changes in eligibility and time of submitting the applications for family members
Family members of an investor who successfully applies for Naturalization under the CIP may also be Naturalized provided they fulfill all the criteria. The government has introduced flexibility in the manner of submitting the application of the Investors and their dependent family members. Such an application may now be submitted either at the same time or after the application of the main Applicant/Investor.
Moreover, although previously not possible, with the present amendments the parents of the spouse of the main Applicant may also apply for Citizenship in addition to the parents of the main Applicant, provided they also own a permanent private residence in Cyprus worth at least €500,000 (five hundred thousand euros) plus VAT.
It is emphasized that an Applicant/Investor can no longer set up a Development Company in order to channel his/her investment. Investment in land in a no-building zone is not a qualified investment.
It is noted that it is possible for an Investor to qualify under the CIP if he/she purchases, establishes or participates in a Cypriot business or company formed and operating in the Republic of Cyprus at an investment cost of at least €2.0 m. (2 million euros) which must be channeled /directed to finance the investment objectives of this undertaking and company solely in the Republic, on the basis of an Investment Plan. Applications shall be assessed and it must be proven that enterprises or companies have a physical presence in the Republic of Cyprus, with substantial activity and significant turnover, and that they employ at least 9 (nine) Cypriot or European Union citizens. The minimum number of employees increases accordingly if more than one Investor invests in the same business or company.
With regards to the permanent residence that the Applicant needs to keep for life and which needs to have a value of at least €500.000 euros plus VAT, in addition to the other documents that need to be submitted with the application, such as a bank waiver, planning permit, or proof of joint signatory account, a search needs to be submitted.
The aim of the above amendments is to further bolster the status of the Programme. By introducing these measures and safeguards the Cyprus Government wishes to ensure that the criticism that the Programme has been receiving will be refuted. As Mr Nouris stressed, so that the Programme can no longer be criticized, as has happened until recently but, more importantly, so that there will no longer be any doubts regarding the Programme's credibility.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.