The government-appointed cash-for-passports watchdog has missed the publication deadline for its obligatory annual report by eight full months and still has no idea when it will be published.
The seventh annual report, containing data up to June 2020, was supposed to be published in November last year. However, the Office of the Regulator of the controversial scheme is yet to publish the report, and has failed to give a clear reason for the delay.
Asked by The Shift to state when the report will be issued, the 78-year-old regulator, Carmel Degabriele, said the delay is due to “important changes as compared to previous years”.
Degabriele claimed this “has made it impossible to keep with the usual timeframe”. He also pointed out that the report can’t be made public before being presented officially to parliament.
With parliament currently suspended for the summer, this can’t happen before October when MPs are expected to resume their duties.
It remains unclear whether it is the parliamentary secretary responsible for the scheme, Alex Muscat, who is holding up the publication of the report or whether the delay is due to Degabriele not yet having completed the job.
Degabriele, a career civil servant, did not reply to a specific question about whether he has already passed on his report to the parliamentary secretary.
Earlier this year, despite his advanced age, Degabriele was given a new two-year mandate by the government to act as the cash-for-passport scheme’s regulator.
Introduced in 2014 as one of the first money-generating initiatives of the Labour administration, the programme has been slammed by the EU as a whole, as well as by several individual states.
Critics have pointed to the numerous reports of Maltese citizenship being granted to wealthy individuals with shady reputations who are then able to enter the 27-nation bloc and take advantage of its freedom of movement of people rules to operate in any of the EU member states. This was confirmed by The Passport Papers investigation conducted by a consortium of journalists, including The Shift, in conjunction with the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.
International disapproval of the scheme was exacerbated by revelations that the Maltese authorities were failing to enforce the conditions they themselves had laid down. So, for example, despite the obligation for applicants to spend a year in Malta before obtaining a passport, many Russians, Chinese and Saudi Arabian passport-buyers actually spent no more than a few hours on the island – just enough time to sign their papers and pick up their passports.
The Maltese government generated hundreds of millions of euros through this scheme, but the country has failed to adequately address the EU’s concerns about its shortcomings and implications for EU-wide security. As a result, the European Commission began the process of legal action against Malta in June this year.
Prime Minister Robert Abela, has continued to argue for the retention of some form of passport sales and insists that citizenship is a matter for individual states alone. Malta has since been greylisted by the Financial Action Task Force because of the government’s failure to effectively tackle money laundering and tax crimes.