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US lawyer who “praised” Malta passport programme not informed of corruption allegations

Thomson Reuters’ Peter Vincent told The Shift he remained concerned about the threat to security and democracy posed by cash for passport programmes.

Malta Citizenship by Investment Programme

The US lawyer who was reported to have bestowed “glowing praise” on Malta’s “scrutiny” in its cash for passports programme has told The Shift he was unaware of links to kickbacks to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff made in a report by the anti-money laundering agency, FIAU, which is the subject of a criminal magisterial inquiry.

“I was not and am not aware of this issue. I was merely noting the level of due diligence and vetting that I understand to be part of the Maltese programme,” Peter Vincent said in an interview with The Shift.

He stressed his comments were no endorsement of the scheme, which he considers to be a global threat to security and democracy. “I am generally uncomfortable with these programmes as I don’t like the commodification of citizenship and worry about the distortion of democracy… I am most certainly not in any way endorsing the programme in Malta,” he said.

peter vincent
Peter Vincent

Vincent is General Counsel for Thomson Reuters Special Services, who has addressed Henley & Partners conferences on Citizenship-by-Investment (CIP) programmes. His “glowing praise” of the Malta CIP programme was reported by Malta Today, and the State broadcaster TVM, on the day his interview was published in Investment Migration Insider, a portal which is the voice of the CIP industry.

The interview occurred only days after he spoke at the Henley & Partners’ Hong Kong conference two weeks ago together with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Telling The Shift he remained “a committed sceptic and critic of CIP programmes,” he said his comments on Malta were made in the context of what is occurring on a global level, which he had previously described as a race to the bottom.

“Although by no means perfect, the Maltese programme does endeavour to engage in deep due diligence and serious vetting of all applicants and their respective source of their funds,” he said, although calling for improved transparency.

He admitted he did not know about the FIAU report linking the Malta CIP programme with kickbacks to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Schembri has denied the allegations, and the issue is subject to a criminal magisterial inquiry.

He also said he was not aware that the timing of the “praise” was close to the scheduled visit of the European Parliament Committee of Inquiry into Money-Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion on Thursday.

The European Parliament vote in favour of a resolution on the rule of law in Malta two weeks ago raised concerns on the Malta cash for passport scheme.

Speaking to Le Temps last June, he had said: “These programmes can become corrupt, and in certain countries they can create some real problems for democracy”.

It is in line with Henley & Partner’s Christian Kalin comments published by Bloomberg in 2015: “All of the programmes have a certain tendency for corruption, unfortunately”.

Apart from the Hong Kong conference, Vincent was also listed as a speaker with the Malta Prime Minister at a CIP conference in Malta last October, but he said he had never met Muscat or spoken to him about the programme.

Joseph Muscat and Peter Vincent at Malta Workshop on CIP Programme held in October 2017.

In an interview with 60 Minutes, which Vincent published on YouTube in January, he said of CIP programmes: “They’re not safe programmes. They’re not transparent programmes. There are no safeguards in place.”

He said CIP programmes present a security threat and a “terrorism threat” and that “cash for citizenship programmes are a gaping hole in the [global] security architecture”.

Until 2014, Vincent was the top legal advisor for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the department of US Homeland Security. He resigned following allegations of sexual and general harassment that were the subject of a lawsuit in which he was named countless times.

Allegations refer to Vincent treating offices as “fiefdoms” and employing people close to him without a call. The case involves a 59-year old woman who had a “stellar career” as a lawyer with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more than 25 years.  Vincent was also under investigation for “inappropriate relationships,” according to US court documents.

Vincent said he now worked for a wholly-owned US subsidiary of Thomson Reuters.  “We do not provide any due diligence or vetting services for any of these programmes.  I have never been offered any payment or honoraria for speaking at any conference on any topic, including CIP programmes.  I am brought in to address topics based on my counterterrorism expertise gained through my public service career with both the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security”.

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