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President Nicos Anastasiades said his government’s citizenship by investment programme has helped the construction sector and has contributed to the recovery of the economy, playing down suggestions he has personally benefited from the scheme. 

In an interview with opposition daily Haravghi on Sunday, the president defended the programme, which has been criticised by the EU as being opaque and potentially a way, along with Malta’s, for organised crime groups to infiltrate the bloc.

“It is a programme, which led the construction sector to recovery, a large number of workers have been employed, and it contributed to the revival of the economy and growth,” he said, seeking to justify an indignant response to a damning EU report earlier this year.

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Late in January, the European Commission issued a report warning that programmes selling passports and visas to wealthy foreigners could help organised crime groups infiltrate the bloc and raise the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

The EU report highlighted shortfalls in the Cypriot and Maltese schemes which do not sufficiently check the origins of the wealth of individuals and do not allow their easy identification.

Anastasiades reacted at the time suggesting Cyprus was being singled out because other states did not like the competition.

He also said strict measures were in place though it was only recently that the government decided to introduce tighter checks.

“We have established stricter measures and have complied with the observations,” the president told Haravghi. “Irrespective of what I said, what matters is that we are taking measures to prevent any unfavourable developments but also to lay suspicion to rest.”

Included in the measures are enhanced due diligence, which has not been implemented yet, and an obligation for applicants to be Schengen visa holders.

The president has also been criticised over the involvement in the scheme of the Limassol law firm he had founded that still bears his name and is managed by his two daughters.

“I would have felt uncomfortable if my former law firm had a leading role in the applications,” Anastasiades said. “Their applications are only 40 out of the 4,700 submitted. You are ignoring the service suppliers who may have 200 or 300 applications and some people are focusing on my former office.”

Anastasiades said the order he gave when he left the firm was that he would not accept it ever taking on cases relating to the state.

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