President Nicos Anastasiades used the private jet of a Saudi businessman who acquired a Cypriot passport for another private trip, long before the controversial trip to the Seychelles some two years ago, reports said on Friday.

Following a storm of reactions and accusations he had violated the code of ethics for using the jet for a family trip to the Seychelles, Anastasiades said on Thursday its use for the trip in question could have been avoided. The president also said using the aircraft did not violate the ethics code and that it had been a friendly gesture on behalf of the businessman and not a gift.

On criticism of a possible quid pro quo between Anastasiades and the Saudi businessman concerning the latter’s naturalisation, the president said the jet owner had acquired a Cypriot passport in January 2015 whereas the trip to Seychelles took place in August 2018.

Daily Politis however, citing sources reported on Friday that Anastasiades had also travelled with the businessman’s jet in August 2015, a few months after the Saudi was granted citizenship. The trip in question took place with the first aircraft belonging to the businessman, a Boeing 767. The businessman now has a B737 permanently stationed at Larnaca airport, which has been used several times for the president’s official trips.

The president used the aircraft in question for services trips, once in 2015, six times in 2017, 10 times in 2018 and 15 times in 2019.

The family of the late Chris Lazari, the Cyprus-born British billionaire property developer and Anastasiades’ friend, who had offered to assume the cost for the use of a private plane for the president’s official trips abroad continue the same practice.

Lazari, had said in 2014 he would assume the cost for Anastasiades’ official trips with a private jet when necessary, such as in cases there was no direct air link with Cyprus.

Anastasiades, referring on Thursday to a report by the auditor-general concerning the naturalisation of the aircraft owner, said no favourable treatment was found as regards the investor’s naturalisation application.

The report however, suggested citizenships should not have been granted in 2015 to the rich Saudi and 41 other individuals because they did not meet the criteria. The total number of investors, including the Saudi businessman was six. An additional 36 people – spouses, children – were also naturalised in line with the citizenship for investment scheme.

As regards the findings of the audit service into Anastasiades’ use of private jets for his travels, the report concluded that no taxpayer money had been squandered but it did not address the ethical issues arising.

The matter was discussed on Thursday at the House watchdog committee.

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