Former Lawmaker Asks Cypriot AG to Reopen Probe Into the Leader of His Party

Cypriot former lawmaker Georgios Varnava has asked the island’s attorney general, Georgios Savvides, to reopen an investigation into a business transaction that involved a fellow party member and allowed an Iraqi national to obtain Cypriot citizenship in 2018.

Cyprus current passport issued in 2019Cyprus passport. (Photo: Heytherekshetere, Wikimedia, License)In 2020, just a month into his AG appointment by then president Nicos Anastasiades, Savvides rejected a police request to lift the parliamentary immunity of Marinos Sizopoulos, the leader of the social democratic EDEK party, and shelved the case, according to a police file obtained by reporters.

Varnava called the decision a “double standard” in a letter to the AG, which  he made public earlier this month.

“Covering up such cases, especially involving politicians, sends wrong signals to the people,” Varnava said.

Cypriot police had launched an investigation in 2019 into the sale of Taxan Properties Developers Limited, after questions from tax authorities resulted in claims of conflicting sales contracts and a complaint by two of Taxan’s former shareholders.

According to a report by the ad hoc Nicolatos Committee, which investigated corruption in Cyprus’s golden passports program, the company was 2.6 million euros (US$2.83 million) in debt in 2017 when its shareholders, which included Sizopoulos’s daughters, sold Taxan to an Iraqi businessman.

According to a debt settlement agreement, Bank of Cyprus agreed to accept 1.6 million euros ($1.74 million) and write off the remaining 956,900 euros ($1.04 million) debt from a non-performing loan. As a company director Sizopoulos was one of the loan guarantors, and the Nicolatos report described it as a “[Politically Exposed Person] loan.”

As part of its investigation, the Nicolatos Committee reviewed the Ministry of Interior's file on the Taxan buyer, Mohammed Sadeq Ibrahim, who in his passport application claimed to have paid 2 million euros ($2.18 million) for the company, an amount that would satisfy one of the requirements of the Cyprus Investment Programme. But the Committee noted that Ibrahim’s application only included a non-numbered receipt as proof of the transaction, and that two of Taxan’s sellers later claimed to tax authorities that the buyout price was only 1.6 million euros.

The conflicting contracts were the focus of the police investigation into possible fraud, theft, and forgery.

“There is a possibility that the applicant fraudulently or with false pretenses acquired the naturalization certificate (submission of forged document),” the committee wrote in a confidential report submitted to Savvides in 2021. “As a result, we propose that the Ministry of Interior closely monitors the matter and look into the possibility of revoking the naturalization in the case the CID‘s investigation results into the applicant’s conviction.”

The probe has been on hold since July 2020, no one was made a formal suspect and no one has been charged in connection with the case.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim has used his Cypriot passport to register for residency in Sweden and open companies in the UK, according to an investigation by Sweden’s Goteborgs-Posten, in collaboration with OCCRP.

The businessman told reporters that he paid 2 million euros for Taxan but declined to provide proof. He also said his wealth came from his family’s factories in Iraq and his business importing cosmetics and perfumes.

Cyprus’s attorney general's office and interior ministry both declined to comment on the case, citing an “on-going investigation” and personal data protection restrictions.

Sizopoulos told the Cypriot parliament in 2021 that he was willing to release information to prove that he hadn’t received favorable treatment from banks, but declined to share such proof when contacted by reporters.

“It is impossible to give you any information about this,” Sizopoulos told Goteborgs-Posten. “I think they dropped the case, but they didn't tell me any details about it,” he said about the police probe into the transaction.