Skip to content

Cypress Papers: China’s Riches Quietly Emigrate Overseas

Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has obtained copies of documents that were leaked and which reveal that Cyprus, an EU country, approved 1,400 “golden passports” between 2017 and 2019, among which more than 500 were issued to Chinese. The project started in 2013, when Cyprus launched a “Cyprus Investment Plan.” According to this plan, through the purchase of real estate and other forms of investment in the local area amounting to at least 2.15 million euros, a foreigner could apply for a so-called “golden passport.” A Cyprus passport brings benefits including no requirement of a local residence and the freedom to live and work in the other 26 EU countries.

Al Jazeera discovered that most of the people who obtained the “golden passports” were Russians, Chinese, and Ukrainians. By selling citizenship, the Cyprus government received 7 billion euros in revenue within two years, a good boost for a sluggish economy.

Among about 500 naturalized people from China, Al Jazeera released the information on eight individuals, including Yang Huiyan, a property developer and the majority shareholder of Country Garden Holdings. In 2007, her father, Yang Guoqiang largely transferred the stake to her. She is the richest woman in Asia. It is legal for a Chinese to apply for a passport or permanent resident status of another country, but China does not recognize dual citizenship. In theory, after Yang Huiyan obtained the Cyprus passport on October 23, 2018, she could not continue to remain Chinese as her nationality.

The Chinese who have acquired Cyprus citizenship include a few representatives of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in provincial and city governments. Lu Wenbin, a representative of the Chengdu Municipal People’s Congress, obtained a Cypress passport in July 2019. Chen Anlin, a member of the CPPCC in Huangpi District, Wuhan City, became a Cypress citizen in July 2018. Fu Zhengjun, a former member of the CPPCC in Jinhua city of Zhejiang Province, was naturalized in November 2017. Zhao Zhenpeng, a member of the CPPCC of Binzhou City, Shandong Province, received a Cyprus passport in February 2019. The South China Morning Post pointed out that once these people are found to have foreign citizenship, they will be disqualified as representatives of the NPC or the CPPCC.

According to the South China Morning Post, people holding important positions in state-owned enterprises are not allowed to have foreign passports. Tang Yong, executive director and president of the state giant China Resources Power, is on the list that Al Jazeera disclosed. Tang obtained a Cyprus passport in January 2019. Then in December, he was transferred to China Resources Power as its president.

Being rich is not the only condition for investing in Cyprus to obtain a passport. The Cyprus government requires strict verification of the background of the applicants. Those with criminal records cannot be naturalized. However, the “Cypress Papers” show that Zhang Keqiang, a businessman from China, was sentenced for equity trading. Another Chinese businessman, Li Jiadong, was sanctioned by the United States for laundering more than US$ 100 million. Both of them bought Cyprus “golden passports.” In 2019, Cyprus revised relevant laws so that it now requires a strict investigation of investors and allows cancellation of passports already issued.

The “Cyprus Investment Plan” is an ongoing project. According to Al Jazeera, out of more than 500 people from China, only eight “politically public figures” have been disclosed. Most of the rest have no important political background or criminal history.

The European Commission once gave out warnings about some EU countries carelessly issuing EU visas and even granting EU citizenship for money, claiming that this approach contains risks.

Source: Deutsche Welle, August 25, 2020.
Al Jazeera, The Cyprus Papers.