The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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When a Russian billionaire is registered to half a basement flat, something has got to give

Daphne Caruana Galizia Sunday, 6 August 2017, 11:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

The usual suspects are hard at work selling Maltese citizenship and now also ‘golden residence visas’ (“buy the right to live and possibly also work anywhere in the European Union for your entire extended family, aunts, uncles, second-cousins trice removed and all your and their descendants until the end of time by paying the Maltese government the bargain price of €30,000 for the lot”). Clearly in league with a bunch of estate agents who are raking in the loot while the rest of us pay the price in terms of discomfort, general hideousness, chaos, construction, blocked roads, filth and an overburdened infrastructure, they are posting what they clearly consider to be tempting links to videos and articles portraying Malta as a wonderful amalgamation of the Scottish Highlands, a Greek island, the Caribbean and Manhattan, with the bars and restaurants of Soho and the laid-back glamour of Martha’s Vineyard and Mustique of another era.


You have to laugh. Well, I don’t. I just think they’re plain ridiculous. Why pretend? The people buying ‘golden’ residence visas for legions of their current family and unborn descendants, and citizenship for themselves and their extended family, are not planning on actually spending more than the few hours they are required to spend so as to actually collect their passports in person. If they’re not obliged to spend any time here in Malta at all, as with the case of residence visas – residence is a true misnomer, if ever there was one – then they’ll grab their Maltese identity card/passport/proof of citizenship or their residence visa and buzz off to wherever it is in the more salubrious, comfortable and civilised parts of Europe it is that they really want to live.

The other day, a British former diplomat who was once posted to Malta, several years ago, and who left the British foreign service, came to Malta, went over to the dark side, and began selling Maltese citizenship and residence visas for Brian Tonna’s outfit, Nexia BT, posted something on LinkedIn, the professional social media network, about “what Malta has to offer”. Exactly why is he bothering with this farcical charade, I thought to myself, when he of all people knows that his prospective clients are mainly interested in buying Maltese citizenship, particularly the Russians and Middle Eastern types, to live in his capital city, London. I posted a comment beneath his video, or whatever it was, saying, “How many of the people to whom you sell those passports of yours are actually buying them because Malta has a lot to offer?” They’re buying them because London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Stockholm, Berlin, Munich, Dusseldorf have a lot to offer, and any time they have to spend under duress in what has become the chaotic, hot, messy, overdeveloped, ugly toenail of the Mediterranean is one day longer than they have to.

One of the worst things that is happening as a result of the greed of the few is that property rental prices are being forced ever upwards, and are now already at the point where single parents and people in their late 20s and early 30s who have left the family home (because at that age, you should whether you’re married or not) can’t find anywhere to live. And if they do, the landlord pushes up the rent after some months to force them out because he or she discovers that there is more to be gained by renting out to citizenship-applicants who will leave the flat empty (so no wear and tear) while paying a fortune for it in rent. And that’s five years of money coming in every month as payment for leaving your flat empty. Of course, these landlords are delighted. But look at how it’s distorted the market. And just look at the social cost with people who actually have to live and work in Malta being unable to find somewhere to live.

When citizenship applicants intend to spend no time at all in Malta (and they don’t), they simply don’t care what sort of place they are renting, because all they need is an address which they can show to the government of Malta, which the government of Malta can in turn show to the European Commission if required to do so (fat chance of that). So that is why you now have glorified garages with lavatories, in shabby streets in nondescript villages, being rented out to millionaires from the Middle East, China and Russia for the sort of sums you would expect to pay for a flat on the (ruined) Sliema seafront. The Maltese government requires them to rent a place for five years. After that, they can cut all ties

The other day, I found the registered address of a Russian billionaire, one of the owners of Russia’s largest sports retail chain, who had acquired Maltese citizenship, and went to find it to see what sort of place it is. I couldn’t believe it – how on earth are they getting away with this kind of thing? And that billionaire must be paying a fortune for that dump. In a rundown street of 1980s villas, which was once quite smart but is now extremely shabby with most of the houses requiring extensive maintenance and looking really tatty, one of those houses had been smartened up and converted, without any construction change to the façade, into several separate flats – in the way, say, a London house would be divided into flats. There was no sign of life in any of them, not even any furniture when I looked through the ground floor windows. The number I had for the Russian billionaire pertained to the basement of the house – the basement where, when we were teenagers and had friends who lived in those sorts of houses, you’d find a table-tennis table, an old fridge, the resident dad’s tools, and some black sacks of clothes the resident mum had cleared out of her wardrobe and dumped there.

And this is the address of a Russian billionaire who has just bought Maltese citizenship. But there’s more: he isn’t renting the whole basement, just half of it, because the basement door has two numbers on it, 9A and 9B, and he’s registered at 9B. You think that’s shocking? There’s worse: the basement has just the one window and one door with two numbers on it. Which ‘flat’ gets the window? And who walks in on whom through that one door? Nobody, of course, because nobody lives there.


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