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World News

Cyprus speaker under pressure to quit in cash-for-passport scandal

NICOSIA (Reuters) - The speaker of Cyprus’s parliament came under pressure on Wednesday to resign over a cash-for-passports scandal which has embarrassed authorities in the European Union member state.

Nicosia said on Tuesday it would suspend a lucrative scheme that offers citizenship in return for investment after the Al Jazeera network secretly filmed the speaker apparently offering to facilitate a passport for a fictitious convicted felon.

Demetris Syllouris, who is also number two in the state hierarchy, said he would ‘abstain’ from his duties as parliamentary speaker from Oct. 19.

Syllouris has denied any wrongdoing, saying his comments in the clip - filmed last year - had been taken out of context, but at least three political parties demanded his resignation.

“I feel ashamed that Cyprus was exposed in such a manner, serving a handful of people with a lot of money,” said Eleni Mavrou, a lawmaker for the main opposition AKEL party.

“If we are to regain even part of our credibility somebody must face justice for this big binge-fest,” Mavrou said.

One person featured in the video, a property developer, resigned as an AKEL lawmaker on Tuesday.

Others filmed said they had reported to the authorities being approached in October 2019 by two undercover reporters from Al Jazeera posing as fixers for the fictitious Chinese investor.

The citizenship for investment scheme has brought in eight billion euros for Cyprus since 2013.

The scandal has spurred anger among people who, though Cypriot by birthright, have fallen foul of the island’s ethnic division into an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north recognised only by Turkey.

“I felt sick to the stomach,” said Ezra Aygin, 41, a Turkish Cypriot who said Cypriot authorities had stalled on the applications of her children for a Cypriot passport for the past four years.

“They were denied a Cypriot passport because their father is Turkish,” said Aygin, who has now initiated legal proceedings.

A video which went viral, apparently taken on Monday, appeared to show Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades warning journalists not to ask him questions about the scandal.

“Don’t mention Al Jazeera to me .. or the devil will take you,” he is heard saying. An aide later said he was joking.

On Tuesday he flew to Brussels, leaving Syllouris as acting president in his absence.

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones

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