Al Jazeera secretly recorded a conversation with the Speaker of the Cypriot Parliament, Demetris Syllouris. He offers to obtain a Cypriot passport for a businessman convicted in China, but mentions in passing that if problems arise, it is possible to do the same in Latvia and other countries.
The Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) denies this possibility.
In Latvia, large enough investments give a foreigner the right to apply for a temporary residence permit, but in Cyprus citizenship is on offer, too. Al Jazeera's investigation shows a secretly recorded conversation in which a journalist pretends to be a representative of a Chinese businessman with a criminal conviction and asks Cypriot parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris for help in obtaining a Cypriot passport. Although Cypriot law does not allow convicts to be granted citizenship, Syllouris offered to resolve the matter, and mentions a passport could also be obtained in Latvia.
"If there are any problems in Cyprus, maybe we can go to another European country through my contacts with the heads of other parliaments? He doesn't care if it's not a Cypriot passport. The main thing is to have a European Union passport. I can do something too. I know the presidents of all the parliaments. I'm not talking about Sweden or Denmark. I know Malta, I know Latvia, I know Slovenia," said Syllouris.
However, it seems likely the claim is simply a show of criminal bravado on the part of Syllouris and it met with outrage from the Speaker of the Latvian Saeima Ināra Mūrniece (National Alliance). She is convinced that such a possibility to buy a Latvian passport does not exist and also condemns Cyprus' so-called "golden passport" policy.
"I have not had any conversation with the Speaker of the Cypriot Parliament. I only learned his name from this story," said Mūrniece.
"Invoking the Latvian state in such a context is very unpleasant, and I categorically dissociate myself from the statements made in the plot that Latvian citizenship could be acquired in the way mentioned in the plot," Mūrniece said.
The Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs emphasizes that the usual process of acquiring citizenship can be circumvented only by persons to whom citizenship is granted by the Saeima for special merits, which is a public and very rare process. The Office does not allow the possibility that Latvian citizenship could be acquired illegally.
"We also regularly check the data in the Population Register, looking at the beneficiaries of citizenship at random, whether all documents and decisions are displayed, for example, the results of the Latvian language check... All these decisions can be checked and traced in great detail," says Madara Puķe of PMLP.
Since the publication of the recorded talks, Syllouris has resigned from the position he held since 2016, while the European Commission has launched infringement proceedings against Cyprus and Malta for "golden passport" programs.