Jho Low’s secret Cypriot passport has been revoked days after local paper Politis uncovered its existence.
Malaysian police confirmed Low is not living on the idyllic Mediterranean island, but hiding in another remote country, whose Government is ignoring requests to send him back.
Controversy is swirling in Cyprus over how Low got his passport, which has been linked to a 300,000 euro church donation.
Low’s alleged beach villa on the island’s popular Aiya Napa resort sits on church land.
Days after a bombshell expose by local newspaper Politis, the Republic of Cyprus has cancelled fugitive businessman Jho Low’s passport, while Malaysian police say he is not currently hiding on the Mediterranean island.
Politis first published a photo of Low’s passport on Sunday (Nov 3), prompting investigations by both countries.
The following day, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the Government would “absolutely” revoke Low’s passport if it existed, Politis reported.
He added it would audit the 4,000 citizenships previously granted and revoke any found breaching new citizenship criteria implemented last year, which includes rejecting politically exposed persons.
Previously, applicants’ background checks did not have to be submitted to the Government. Low’s report, conducted by Thomson Reuters and reproduced by Politis, indicated he was a politically exposed person at risk of money laundering and fraud.
Following the audit, the Cypriot government announced on Wednesday (Nov 6) that it would revoke the passports of Low and 25 others granted before 2018.
These include eight Cambodians allegedly linked to authoritarian leader Hun Sen, and a Kenyan billionaire under investigation for tax evasion, local news site Cyprus Mail added.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides added that it had been “a mistake not to have criteria… for high-risk persons”.
However, President Anastasiades defended the economic benefits of the country’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, adding that “honest mistakes” could have resulted in a small number of about “10 or 15” riskier individuals accepted, Politis quoted him as saying.
His predecessor, Socrates Hasicos, admitted in Facebook posts on Nov 4 and 5 that Low’s passport was granted during his term, but said the wanted financier had no criminal record at the time, based on checks with Interpol, Cyprus police, and the Cypriot bank he used.
The former President and Interior Minister also rubbished Politis’ claims that Low got his passport within two days after giving 300,000 euros (RM1.4 million) to Cyprus’ Orthodox Church in 2015.
This donation was noticed by the Cypriot bank and investigated by the country’s anti-money laundering unit, according to a Politco report published Nov 4.
The paper also claimed the Cabinet “unanimously” approved Low’s naturalisation a day after the church’s Archbishop proposed a meeting with Hasicos around Low’s potential investments on church lands.
“This is a monstrous lie,” Hasicos wrote on Facebook, adding that Low – an “exceptional applicant” – had applied for the passport two and a half months earlier, and received it at the same speed as other exceptional applicants.
The Archbishop said in an interview with the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation that he only supported Low’s bid because a local developer – who was building mansions on church land in Aiya Napa – had requested it.
Low’s alleged beach villa now sits on that land.
Low was not living on the island, but tried to buy property there “under someone else’s name”, Bernama cited Malaysia’s Police Inspector-General of Abdul Hamid Bador as saying on Wednesday (Nov 6).
The businessman was now hiding in another remote country “like a chicken”, the police head added, without naming the country.
Abdul Hamid said Malaysian police were currently trying to negotiate for Low’s repatriation, but their requests were being ignored.
Previously, he said the authorities of the unnamed country made wild claims that Low had done plastic surgery, and now walked like a bull and looked like a bear, the New Straits Times reported.