Updated on 15 April (11.20) with DOI Right of Reply.
Jonathan Cardona, CEO of Malta’s Individual Investor Programme (known as the cash-for-passport scheme), is off to sell Moldovan passports for Henley & Partners at a series of events in southeast Asia this month, according to a statement by the firm.
Presented as “the new jewel of modern Europe”, Moldova is set to be the next best thing after Malta. This is what southeast Asian ‘high net worth individuals’ will be told at the first event for the new venture on 23 April in Thailand.
Cardona is not the first Malta representative to promote the firm’s cash-for-passport programme in different countries. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is a frequent speaker at conferences held by the firm around the world, and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna participated in a debate on the fringes of the World Economic Forum to promote Henley & Partners’ new concept of “sovereign equality”.
Cardona will be joined by Yiannos Trisokkas, Managing Partner of Henley & Partners in Cyprus, the Chairman of the firm’s Real Estate Committee, and a Partner at a high-end Cypriot real estate broker.
The event will be one of a “series of exclusive investment migration industry events” that will take place in the region during April. Apart from Thailand, the group will visit the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
The firm said in a statement reported that the timing was “opportune” as Asia Pacific has been forecast to be the fastest growing high-net-worth (HNW) region over the next five years, with growth in both the number of HNW individuals as well as in combined wealth.
“There’s been significant appetite from HNWIs who are keen to acquire alternative residence and citizenship, and it is slowly becoming one of the most valuable assets in their investment portfolio – the worth of which is far greater than a legacy of material possessions and fixed assets”.
Moldova is not an EU Member State, although it is actively pursuing EU membership. Currently, Moldovan passport holders can travel visa-free to 122 countries, including those in the EU Schengen zone.
Bordering Romania and the Ukraine, the former Soviet State ranked 117 out of 180 on the 2018 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Scoring just 33 points out of a possible 100, it sits next to Pakistan on the list and is considered more corrupt than countries like Ethiopia and Egypt.
Described as “partly free” by Freedom House, corruption is pervasive in the government and “the rule of law continues to hamper democratic governance”, according to the report.
The European Parliament voted in favour of Malta terminating the scheme, that has been linked to allegations of kickbacks involving the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri.
And during the meeting held by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt made clear his concerns that the scheme could be a tool for money laundering.
Following the first assessment by the European Commission on passport schemes in Europe, Bulgaria declared it will stop the scheme. It is only Malta and Cyprus that sell EU passports.
Henley & Partners spent up to €300,000 last year on lobbying in Brussels related to citizenship and immigration policies. This excludes amounts spent by other entities, including the sector’s lobby group, the Investment Migration Council (IMC).
The UK Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed links between SCL Group (the parent organisation of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica), Henley & Partners chairman Christian Kalin and Labour Party Leader Joseph Muscat prior to the 2013 Maltese elections. The Prime Minister, as well as Henley & Partners, have denied these links.
“In view of the article issued published on Thursday 11 April, titled ‘Jonathan Cardona to promote Moldovan passports for Henley & Partners’ is completely fabricated and an outright lie. The Malta IIP and its employees only promote the Maltese programme and Malta as a worthy jurisdiction to invest in. It is the only interest of the Agency. Under no circumstance does the Agency or its employees promote other programmes of any other jurisdiction.
On the other hand, the report issued by the European Commission on the Investor Citizenship and Residence Scheme in the European Union is being discussed at expert group meetings organised by the Commission itself. The Commission is in discussion with all Member States at establishing minimum standards to check and due diligence processes before a person is naturalised a citizen. This is something which Malta has been advocating for”.
Note: Any grammatical errors in the DOI reply have not been addressed in the interest of publishing the statement in full. The Agency has confirmed that Cardona will be attending Henley & Partners’ Asia Tour. The Shift News has rejected the request to remove this article.