Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Investors may buy Maltese citizenship
The government is to set up an Individual Investor Programme which will enable eligible persons to buy Maltese citizenship. The programme, which will form part of the Maltese Citizenship Act, will provide for the granting of citizenship to foreign individuals and families who contribute to the economic development of Malta. Eligible persons will be required to pay €650,000, and €25,000 for spouses and children. A Bill amending the Citizenship Act is currently awaiting debate in Parliament. A government spokesman said the government has initiated a dialogue with the opposition which it hopes will result in consensus based on the national interest. "In such circumstances, the Government will try to afford every opportunity to the opposition to consider the positive impact that this will have on Malta’s future."
Names of those who buy Maltese citizenship will not be published
Government won’t publish names of super-rich who will buy ‘golden passport’ for €650,000
A government plan to sell Maltese citizenship to the world's super-rich, lacks any form of transparency or accountability because the VIPs who buy a passport will not have their names published in the government gazette, and home affairs minister Manuel Mallia will be granted discretionary powers to award citizenship to applicants facing so called "politically motivated" charges.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's government this week said the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) will reap €30 million next year by selling Maltese citizenship at €650,000 to applicants - but this falls to an average €185,000 per passport if a family of five acquires citizenship.
The 'golden passport' will give applicants full voting rights in Malta as well as freedom to move across the European Union.
Shadow Minister for Finance Tonio Fenech expressed reservations about the citizenship programme.
Controversially, government is allowing itself the power of granting citizenship to applicants claiming they face "politically motivated charges or convictions" - a vague description for politicians running away from criminal investigations at home, to pro-democracy activists persecuted by authoritarian governments.
Of concern is the fact that government will strike off Article 25 of the Maltese Citizenship Act, which obliges the government to publish the names of all naturalised citizens. It will now be impossible to know to whom government is selling citizenship for cash.
The home affairs ministry has appointed global consultants Henley as the concessionaire to market the IIP to prospective applicants, and to appoint agents who will provide background checks on the applicants. A new government agency, Identity Malta, will carry out further due diligence checks on the applicants and recommend them to the minister for naturalisation.
MaltaToday was told by government officials that the applicants for the 'golden passport' will be given VIP treatment at airports during their application phase. "We are not going to have them stand in queues at the airport, not when they are paying us this kind of money for a passport."
The Office of the Prime Minister has denied suggestions by this newspaper that they are fast-tracking the naturalisation process by demanding cash. "We are seeking high net worth individuals who want to enjoy the stability of a country like Malta, and investing this money in a posterity fund, that will be enjoyed by future generations."
But the IIP flies in the face of Malta's current naturalisation system, which is compounded by the fact foreign nationals living and working in Malta for a number of years, are not automatically granted citizenship if not by discretion of the minister responsible.
"The perception that Maltese citizenship will be granted to the super-rich, in a context where naturalisation is already very difficult and discretionary, makes the law unfair," academic Daniela De Bono, who authored a study on Maltese citizenship for the EU Observatory on Democracy (EUDO), said.
For foreign nationals living in Malta, acquiring citizenship by naturalisation in Malta is overshadowed by the "singular non-reviewable discretion" enjoyed by the home affairs minister. The EUDO says this power could provide an avenue for "abuse or conflict of interest". In the case of the IIP, a regulator will be appointed to provide an annual report on the programme, but this will not include the applicants' personal data. The report will be tabled in parliament.