NICOSIA (Reuters) - A former Cypriot parliamentary speaker secretly filmed in an expose on a now discredited cash-for-passports scheme declined to answer questions on Wednesday into his role in a scandal which rocked the island nation.
Demetris Syllouris resigned in October 2020 after the Al Jazeera network secretly filmed him talking to an undercover reporter, and allegedly promising to facilitate a passport for a person with a criminal record. He denied wrongdoing.
The airing of the documentary, and the public outcry that it caused, prompted authorities to scrap the passport scheme. Almost 7,000 rich foreigners obtained Cypriot citizenship from 2007 to 2020. In its final form, the scheme issued passports to individuals for a minimum 2 million euro investment.
Syllouris, who was second-in-rank in the state hierarchy as parliamentary speaker at the time, was shown in the documentary along with another lawmaker, and a local lawyer, speaking with an undercover reporter who introduced himself as a fixer for an imaginary Chinese investor with a criminal record.
All three claimed entrapment and said they had reported the matter to police, before the documentary was aired. In addition to Syllouris, the lawmaker also resigned.
Syllouris, who said his remarks in the film were taken out of context, cited his constitutional right to decline questions by a state-appointed board of inquiry led by a former chief justice.
"Given that no offence was committed on my part, I am forced to take this position to protect my legal rights," Syllouris said, calling the secret filming of him illegal.
Al Jazeera was investigating a lucrative cash-for-passports scheme in Cyprus from which not only bona fide investors benefited, but some fugitives from justice.
In an interim report released on Tuesday, the board of inquiry said the system was fraught with discrepancies, and that more than half of the passport beneficiaries should not have qualified for citizenship. [L8N2MK61H]
The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus over the scheme last year.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)