The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

‘We do not sell passports,’ Justice Minister tells Parliament

Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 16:53 Last update: about 6 months ago

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici today took exception at the use of the term 'passport sales' used by a PN MP, insisting that foreigners do not simply buy Maltese citizenship.

During PQ time, Beppe Fenech Adami (PN) asked Bonnici whether he allowed legal firms to film adverts inside his ministry building, whether he took part and whether there were any guidelines about such practices. He was referring to the filming of an advert inside the Auberge de Castille by the Chetcuti Cauchi legal firm, which has had its IIP licence suspended after a French TV sting.

In a video from that investigation, an IIP agent was filmed bragging about his close relationship with senior government members.

Replying, Bonnici said Malta does not sell passports. "This is a misnomer. The concept of a sale is that you sell something to someone as long as they pay the price you ask. This does not exist in Malta. There is no scheme whereby people can buy a passport just like that. There is an entire due diligence process."

The correct phrase is citizenship by investment, Bonnici continued. "They invest and if they meet the necessary criteria," he said, adding that the IIP scheme has the blessing of the European Commission.

Referring to the Chetcuti Cauchi case, the minister said action had been taken and investigations were launched. He said he saw nothing wrong in helping promote growth in the legal sector.

Intervening, Opposition Leader Adrian Delia said the IIP scheme is the outright sale of passports. "The concept of sale stipulates the price, persons involved and the conditions. This is what the IIP is. Muscat himself declared that he is a salesman rather that a statesman."

He asked whether the ministry was at least considering suspending the scheme, given the recent case and the new reputational damage it brought with it.

But Bonnici again insisted that this was an investment scheme - one that was carried out under great scrutiny. He said he was confused as to what the Opposition's official stand is, since the PN had changed its version on the IIP several times. Is the PN in favour or against this programme, he asked?

While the PN was asking for a suspension of the scheme, the way in which the authorities had acted showed how strong the system is. The regulator, who was approved by both the government and opposition, had taken action and launched an investigation, Bonnici said.

"I am proud to see my PM travelling the world and working to attracting investment to Malta. The results speak for themselves," he said, adding that, rather than unemployment, the country had a lack of workers.

Government Whip Byron Camilleri then asked about Delia's tweet mishap on the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry - he referred to a magisterial inquiry rather than an independent one.

Replying, Bonnici again said the Opposition was confused. "Either Delia forgot that a magisterial inquiry has been ongoing since the day of the murder or he is mixing up the terms 'magisterial' and 'public.' Such careless statements by the Opposition on such a sensitive subject show how confused they are."

Reacting, Delia said the Minister had not said anything new because he had nothing to say. "In 9 minutes you did not say whether the ministry has considered suspending this dirty scheme for the good of the country."

Closing the debate, Bonnici said the only reply that matters is in the PN's electoral programme, which did not declare that a PN government would scrap the scheme.

"The people harming the country's reputation are the PN MEPs," he said. "I know that, deep down, you do not agree with what they are doing and you have a responsibility to tell them to stop harming the country," Bonnici told Delia. 

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