Selling citizenship was always an unsavoury business, but surely no one in Malta was surprised to learn Joseph Muscat’s pet programme wasn’t quite what it appeared to be on paper.
What little domestic backlash existed to the so-called Individual Investor Programme — ‘It’s degrading to peddle the citizenship our ancestors fought for’ — dissolved in an instant when the government opened up the ability for anyone to make a commission on sales.
It was the money that mattered. Shame could be cancelled for the right price.
But even the EU caught on eventually, and they’re not known for being quick about anything. Labour was forced to ‘crack down on’ the scheme when EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders insisted in early 2020 that it be phased out.
Cue the big announcement…
Applicants would now have to wait a year before getting the Maltese (EU) passport they paid for. And they would have to demonstrate real links to the country. No fooling. We really mean it this time. They even had a helpful checklist.
So what constitutes ‘a genuine link’?
Joining a club. Signing up for a mobile or internet plan. Joining a gym. I mean, who would join a gym and never show up, right?
You could even donate to a charity. Cash goes a long way in the Kingdom of Kickbackistan.
You’ll get 50 points by dropping €10,000 on a charity of your choice, which is a hell of a lot better than spending another day in Malta. That only nets you 15 points. Think of it as an investment. You’re paying the equivalent of €3,333 per day not to have to sit on that overcrowded rock when you’d rather be shopping in London.
You can score another 100 points for buying a property. That takes the biggest bite out of the 220 points required for a pass. And the best thing is, you don’t even have to live there.
That’s the Maltese way, isn’t it? Do just enough to scrape by. Don’t make actual, lasting change. Just tick enough boxes to pass Moneyval. Don’t obey the spirit of the law, just make sure to fudge things enough so you obey the letter. Then they can’t punish you. Oh, what a cunning rogue you are.
Henley even had an ‘estate arm’ that would find and rent properties in Malta so their applicants didn’t have to soil their shoes.
One US applicant whose email was part of the leak told Henley he didn’t want to see the flat he was forced to rent to tick the box. “I don’t care,” he wrote, “what is least expensive which complies w/programme.” He couldn’t be bothered to write a complete sentence, either. Just take the cash and get on with it.
Another visited the ‘luxury’ property he was paying to rent and discovered that it wasn’t even finished yet. The only vista on offer at Vista Point was a view of money running into someone else’s pocket. Henley had signed an agreement with the developer to earn referral commissions for introductions that led to completed transactions, so unfinished flats were fair game. It’s the tenant’s fault if he didn’t look at it.
But not all applicants were super rich. Three separate applicants from the extended Sallah family — nine people in all — paid a total of €32,000 to cram into a flat in Sliema for a year.
As for the points system, far from forcing customers to have real ties to the country whose citizenship they were buying, it seems to have fostered a race to the bottom.
You won’t find these applicants showing up for a family holiday. No, one guy from the UAE did it all in nine hours. He was collected at the airport off a 9.50am flight and driven straight to Identity Malta to take his deeply felt oath of allegiance — to what, I’m not sure — and then zipped back to the airport again for a 7pm departure.
The poor sheikh could have done it even faster if he hadn’t been stuck in traffic. Blame Captain Concrete Ian Borg for the loss.
First place goes to a Nigerian applicant who did it in an efficient three hours. Land at 10am, stop by the Hilton to freshen up, 12.30pm pick up for a quick half-hour appointment at Identity Malta, and back to the airport for a flight to London.
Guess where most of these applications came from? Countries that prohibit holding dual citizenship.
In the first years of the programme, 1,300 of the 2,325 submitted came from Saudi Arabia, China and Russia. Many of these people tried buying passports from multiple jurisdictions at the same time.
Having difficulty explaining where you got the money to buy your Maltese passport? It might be best to discuss the issue in a “face-to-face meeting with [CEO of Malta Individual Investor Programme] Jonathan Cardona”. That was the advice given to a Chinese applicant.
Need a secret passport? Joseph Muscat can help. Don’t worry, ta. Your name won’t show up on the mandatory public list of new citizens — especially if you’re a Saudi prince. You’re connected. Besides, favours might be required in return. Extradition-free exile comes to mind.
Anyway, any abuse of the passport programme – what abuse? – has nothing to do with Henley & Partners: “Ultimately it is the responsibility of the countries involved to investigate and vet applicants,” they said. “As a private company, we are neither required by law to do so, nor do we have access to the same level of background information, contacts, and resources that government authorities have.”
So it’s the government’s fault that shady characters have slipped through the cracks.
The Passport Papers exposé should put the final nail in the coffin of a programme the EU says undermines the integrity of the status of EU citizenship.
Speaking of the world’s premier passport peddling concierge, I bet you’re wondering what Henley & Partners had to say about the investigation into their ‘quality programme’.
They are proud of the service they provided to the nation and its people. The IIP raised “hundreds of millions of euros in debt-free capital without which healthcare, social and cultural investments would not have been possible to make to the extent that they have been in recent years”.
Please remember this generosity when you’re pulled aside at foreign airports because your passport raised a red flag.
As for opening bank accounts abroad, Maltese expats may want to invest in a second citizenship to avoid the reams of due diligence their current passport has begun to attract. I know a firm in London that can help.