At the annual Global Residence and Citizenship Conference by Henley & Partners in Dubai this week, the robot that took centre stage at the Blockchain Summit in Malta a few days earlier was used to launch Moldova’s new cash for passport scheme.
Henley & Partners said it won the public tender to assist the Government of Moldova in designing, implementing, and internationally promoting the programme, as it said it did in Kazakhstan a few months ago.
Henley & Partners was contracted in 2014 by the Government of Malta to design and implement the cash-for-passports programme for the country. In Malta, the programme was imposed on the public despite it never having been mentioned in the Labour Party’s electoral programme.
It was one of the first projects implemented by Muscat’s government despite controversy and opposition, allowing applicants access to the free movement in the EU.
The government has refused transparency in the process – publishing the names of those who bought citizenship with those who acquired it, making it impossible to identify those who paid for a Maltese / European passport.
Sophia, the robot awarded citizenship in Saudi Arabia last year, took centre stage at the Blockchain Summit in Malta last week, following months of expensive promotion in international media to draw attention to the lavish summit, the second summit on the subject within weeks.
The PR stunt grabbed news headlines, as the head of the AI Task Force Wayne Grixti said at the summit that robots could get EU citizenship. The idea was described as “daft” and as the flak increased junior minister Silvio Schembri said it would only be involved in ‘citizenship tests’.
The idea of citizenship for robots has been harshly criticised. Joanna Bryson, an AI and ethics researcher at the University of Bath, said “it’s obviously bullshit”.
Henley & Partners has faced allegations of undermining democracy in countries where it operates its citizenship programmes, which the firm has denied.
In a meeting with MEPs investigating the rule of law in Malta, chairman Christian Kalin admitted it sought the Maltese Prime Minister’s approval before deciding which journalists to sue.
Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had published part of string of emails between Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Henley & Partners showing the latter sought – and received – the Prime Minister’s approval to threaten to take legal action in an attempt to stop stories being written about the controversial cash for passport scheme.
Henley & Partners threatened a SLAPP lawsuit against The Shift in its first weeks of operation, demanding that a story be removed or the company would sue in the US or the UK. The Shift was the only newsroom to stand up to threats by the firm, refusing to remove the story and publishing its threat.
The Maltese government refused a motion presented in Parliament by the Opposition to give additional protection to journalists facing SLAPP lawsuits. Justice Minister Owen Bonnici’s arguments against the need to protect journalists was shot down by Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova.
She warned that Europe’s security was being put at risk by so-called “golden passport” schemes that have allowed states to sell citizenship or residency to potentially “dangerous” individuals.