London, Sep 18 : The Cyprus government has raised over 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) since 2013 by "selling" European Union (EU) citizenships to billionaire Russian oligarchs and Ukrainian elite, a media report said.
Cyprus has granted the super rich the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. More than 400 passports are understood to have been issued through the "golden visa" scheme last year alone, the Guardian report said on Sunday.
Launched in 2013, Cyprus' current citizenship-by-investment scheme requires applicants to place 2 million euros in property or 2.5 million euros in companies or government bonds. There is no language or residency requirement, other than a visit once every seven years.
Prior to 2013, Cypriot citizenship was granted on a discretionary basis by ministers, in a less formal version of the current arrangement.
A leaked list of the names of hundreds of those who have benefited from these schemes includes prominent business-people, a former member of Russia's parliament, the founders of Ukraine's largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire.
Ana Gomes, a Portuguese MP, described "golden visas" as "absolutely immoral and perverse".
"I'm not against individual member states granting citizenship or residence to someone who would make a very special contribution to the country, be it in arts or science, or even in investment. But granting, not selling," she told the Guardian.
Later this year, the European parliament will debate an amendment tabled by Gomes requiring countries to carry out thorough security checks on "golden visa" applicants.
The European Commission has also ordered its own inquiry.
In response, the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Cyprus said the programme was intended for "genuine investors, who establish a business base and acquire a permanent residence in Cyprus".