The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

Malta’s passport scheme under the spotlight again, this time in Dutch TV exposé

Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 14:46 Last update: about 7 days ago

Malta’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, and its shortcomings, have once again found themselves under the media spotlight, this time ona Dutch TV documentary.

The tv report refers to the IIP, which has now been phased out and replaced by a new scheme the government says has more safeguards, but criticism of the IIP continues to this day.  

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The current affairs programme Nieuwsuur (News Hour) gave an overview of how Malta’s citizenship programme came to be, and how corrupt individuals managed to get Maltese citizenship.

The show described the relationship between Dutch university professor Dimitry Kochenov, known as ‘the passport professor’ and his friend Christian Kalin of Henley and Partners, known as the ‘passport king.’

It starts at the beginning – how passport selling started in St Kitts and Nevis, attracting wealthy people and criminals alike.

Kalin managed to professionalise passport selling but did not fully manage to keep the crooks out, Nieuwsuur said.

He wanted a government to support him and found that support in Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. The programme aired footage of Kalin at the kick-off party held at a hotel in St Julian’s.

“Malta making millions from passport but the EU is not amused. The scheme attracts Russian oligarchs, Chinese party bosses and Arab Sheiks, but also spies and drug barons,” the presenter continues. “The EU started asking questions, such as ‘was this legal?’ and ‘ is Malta screening its applicants properly?’”

Malta then sought legal advice from the Groningen University professor. In a clip, Kochenov says he told then Attorney General Peter Grech that’ Malta’s programme was “tip top” and “there is no problem with it.”

Kochenov travelled to Malta to advise the government but also represented the Maltese PM to argue his case in Brussels, Nieuwsuur said. He also pithched the IIP in Moscow, to rich Russians.

In an interview with the host, Kochenov said that from an international and European law point of view, the selling of citizenship is “perfectly fine.”

But Malta’s programme did not always work as it should. For example, Iranian nationals should not be able to acquire a Maltese passport because of international sanctions against the country.

But Ali Sadr (of Pilatus Bank fame) first boight a St Kitts passport and then applied for a Maltese one. Then he established a bank in Malta (in the EU). “Normally, this would be impossible for an Iranian.”

The ECB later closed down the bank when Sadr was accused of involvement in corruption and money laundering.

The other problem is corruption by the people selling the passports, Nieuwsuur continued.

This is where Keith Schembri comes in. The former OPM chief of staff allegedly received up to €100,000 to help rich Russians get Maltese passports, the presenter noted, adding that Schembri was recently arraigned.

Kochenov and Kalin, together with two other Groningen assistants later worked on the Quality of Nationality Index, which the Groningen university promoted on its own website.

The presenter asks whether the university spent taxpayer money on the study and why it did this in the first place. The university failed to answer questions sent to it.

 

The programme is in Dutch but can be seen with English subtitles/closed captions.

 

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