The Malta Independent 27 November 2021, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: The great passport sham exposed

Sunday, 25 April 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 8 months ago

We knew all along that Malta’s passports-for-cash scheme, the Individual Investor Programme, was a sham.

Over the years, there have been several reports exposing how the supposedly serious citizenship programme failed in every aspect bar one – the generation of fast cash.

But now we have ample proof of the serious shortcomings of the IIP, thanks to a joint investigation by several newsrooms, including this one, and which is spearheaded by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.

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The investigation revolves around a massive cache of data obtained by the foundation last year, with journalists from local and international newsrooms sifting through thousands of documents pertaining to client applications.

The investigation revealed, among other things, the close relationship between the Office of the Prime Minister and Henley & Partners, and the lack of a genuine link between applicants and Malta, which was one of the requirements for anyone getting a coveted Maltese (and EU) passport.

The Malta Independent and MaltaToday report today how some of the proof of “genuine links” provided by some applicants included receipts for pastizzi from is-Serkin and the purchase of energy drinks from Paceville nightclubs. While some of the applicants actually made an effort to have some sort of meaningful relationship with the country, others took the easy way out and provided bus tickets or receipts for sun cream as proof of their link to the country.

The investigation also showed the effect that the IIP had on the property rental market.

Many clients went for the bare minimum and rented out shabby properties at inflated prices, only to stay at luxury hotels. This means that property was being rented out to passport clients, at prices well above the market average, but these flats remained empty despite being registered as their official place of residence during their supposed stay in Malta.

The Guardian, which is a member in the collaboration, has carried out an undercover investigation and published a video showing a Henley & Partners official saying the company always tells potential Maltese passport buyers that they only need to do the “bare minimum” when it comes to satisfying the criteria for the scheme.

In another case, revealed by this newsroom, around 30 different IIP clients were registered as living at a Gozo apartment block that was still under construction.

One can say without a doubt that the rush to offer substandard properties at exorbitant prices to passport buyers led to an inflation in market prices, to the detriment of honest, hardworking families and individuals.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect is the closeness that the government had with Henley & Partners. We revealed on Wednesday how one particular applicant – a Saudi royal – met with then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and asked that his name not be published in the government gazette.

Besides the fact that there is an issue of legality and morality – originating from the fact that Saudi nationals cannot have dual citizenship – it also shows that the rules were bent or broken with the government’s, since it is a legal requirement for the authorities to publish the names of all individuals who are naturalizated in Malta.

We also report today how Henley & Partners had named Alex Muscat, then an OPM official and now the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for citizenship, as their “contact person.”

Emails seen by the collaboration show that Muscat was asked to assist in making arrangements for a particular client who was flying to Malta. The government, the email says, had offered to help “minimize grief” for the company’s clients. This grief included being filmed by journalists.

Muscat says he did not have any role in the IIP, but there are ample documents to show that the Maltese government was going out of its way to make sure that IIP clients had a “positive” experience when acquiring a scarlet passport.

The government phased out the IIP last year and has replaced it with a ‘new’ scheme it says is more stringent. But one cannot wonder how serious the new scheme really is with all that is coming out about its predecessor which, we were told ad nauseam, was subject to a rigorous due diligence process and brought ‘talent’ and ‘business’ to Malta.

We can say without hesitation now that the IIP was a complete sham – nothing but a shady scheme to make a quick buck and nothing else.

The government can argue that Malta made millions from the IIP, and that that money was used to fund important infrastructural and social projects. But nothing is worth the shame that the golden passport scheme has brought upon us. No amount of money can repair the reputational damage that the IIP has caused.

And nothing will convince us that the mistakes made over the past eight years won’t be repeated. Passport-selling is a murky business that Malta should steer clear away from.

 

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