“We have to agree that the passport programme is a must” Robert Abela declared.
We don’t have to agree about anything – especially a programme of deception and dishonesty. It’s only a must for Labour, to retain its grip on power. And a must for the PN to attempt to reduce the size of its next trashing.
What is so wrong with Malta’s Golden Passport? It epitomises Labour and its disloyal dupery.
Labour was dragged into the European Union kicking and screaming. Once in, it undermined the trust and exploited the naivety of the bureaucratic behemoth. Before gaining power Labour conspired to take advantage of fellow Member States. Within months of victory, Labour was selling passports.
In January 2014, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding declared: “Citizenship must not be up for sale”. She targeted Malta’s “investors’ scheme”. Decisions taken by one Member State are not neutral with regard to other Member States, she insisted. Citizenship provides entry, not only to Malta but to the whole EU. By selling passports, Malta burdened all Member States with obligations.
She emphasised, citizenship must only be awarded in a spirit of sincere cooperation with other Member States and only if there is a “genuine link” to the country.
Two weeks later the European Commission and the Maltese government issued a joint statement. Labour was compelled to make “further amendments to the regulations issued under the Citizenship Act”. Malta convinced the EU that the amendments “include genuine links to Malta through the introduction of an effective residence status of at least 12 months”. “Genuine links” and “effective residence status” were what Malta pretended to accept to appease fellow Member States.
The Commission was fooled by Joseph Muscat’s slyness and guile. “The Commission’s services welcomed the announced amendments – done in good faith and in a spirit of sincere cooperation”. Of course, Muscat had absolutely no spirit of sincere cooperation, even less good faith. Forget gentlemen’s agreements with Labour, especially where money is involved.
Muscat returned to Malta trumpeting his triumph. Malta’s Golden Passport is the only EU-approved scheme, he proclaimed. He viciously denounced his critics for “attacking Malta”.
The Commission’s blunder was that it trusted Muscat. And failed to define “effective residence status” and “genuine links” in EU law. Which meant Labour did as it pleased.
For Labour, “genuine links” to Malta meant buying pastizzi from is-Serkin, buying Red Bull from Havana. It meant paying the bare minimum in rent for properties unfit for habitation or still unbuilt.
A Chinese national who applied for citizenship for 12 family members, paid €1,500 rent for a 2-bedroom apartment. A South African applicant wrote about his flat: “It’s not used, nobody will go there for a year”.
For Labour “genuine links” to Malta meant paying thousands of euro to Michelle Muscat’s Marigold Foundation. For a member of the Saudi royal family given a Maltese golden passport, “genuine links” meant meeting Joseph Muscat and Jonathan Cardona to ensure his name was removed from the Government Gazette, infringing the law. For Labour, “genuine links” meant paying Henley and Partners €100,000 in fees for passports for a family of four.
For Labour, “genuine links” meant having an insider in Castille by the name of Alex Muscat to “minimise grief to clients”. His contact details were shared by Eric Major, CEO of Henley and Partners, so Muscat could be contacted directly to make it easy for applicants to circumvent agreements reached with the European Commission. While in Castille, Alex Muscat earned an additional few thousands on the side working for Brian Tonna’s Nexia BT, itself a licensed passport seller.
For Labour “12 months effective residence” meant spending some three weeks in Malta. It meant creating a pretence of residing here by renting out basement flats left empty. Some spent just hours in Malta. When government officials were asked by The Guardian how long applicants are expected to be physically present, they were “evasive”.
The problem for Labour is you can’t fool ‘friends’ forever. Slowly but surely Europe caught on. The January 2019 Commission report highlighted the serious risks of Golden Passport schemes. It warned Malta – we’re watching you. But Muscat ploughed on.
In April 2020, the Commission set out its concerns and asked Malta for more information. In a resolution on 10 July 2020, the European Parliament demanded Malta stop selling passports. In her State of the Union Address of 16 September 2020, President von der Leyen sent a stiff warning: European values are not for sale. Cyprus wisely heeded that warning. Malta daftly ignored it.
On 20 October 2020, the Commission launched infringement procedures against Malta. Labour had gone too far. The Commission declared that Malta was undermining “the essence of EU citizenship”.
“One cannot put a price tag on citizenship,” the EU Commissioner declared. Robert Abela can: “the programme has brought in €1.5 billion”.
“There must be a genuine link,” the EU demanded. Abela replied, “Our law speaks clearly about genuine links – there are diverse ways to prove it” (pastizzi, Red Bull, Marigold, etc).
The Commission determined that Malta was selling passports “for a predetermined payment without a genuine link”. Abela insolently retorted that “our programme ticks all the right boxes”.
The European Parliament called on Malta to stop selling passports because of money laundering, security, tax evasion and corruption risks. But Abela accused critics of wanting to stop the scheme “for partisan reasons”.
For Labour, it’s absolutely fine to dupe ‘friends’ as long as you get the cash. It’s fine to cheat a mentally ill villager of his inheritance. It’s alright to deceive the nation to win power and raid the till. It’s right to pilfer taxpayers’ money to boost your image. It’s fine to provide a false key to raid the bank’s vaults. It’s good to cheat your allies as long as you “reap great wealth”.
Labour’s vacuum of integrity has eroded what trust was left in our country. Its greed has slain the golden goose – Malta’s word counts for nothing.