The Malta Independent 22 June 2021, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Golden passports - Ongoing reputational damage

Friday, 11 June 2021, 07:39 Last update: about 11 days ago

The European Commission’s decision to step up its infringement procedure against Malta’s ‘golden passports’ scheme came as no surprise.

The EU has been telling Malta, as well as other Member States that operate similar schemes, that selling national passports also means selling EU citizenship, and that such schemes may attract some unsavoury individuals if a strong vetting process is not put in place.

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Malta ventured into the passport-selling business soon after Labour’s 2013 election victory, and controversy followed close behind.

The idea was put forward by Henley and Partners, who eventually became the main concessionaire for the scheme. When it stated operating in Malta, Henley already had a bad reputation as a company that helped dubious people, including criminals, obtain foreign passports for their nefarious ends. That reputation was made worse by the threats the firm levelled against Daphne Caruana Galizia – with the blessing of the Office of the Prime Minister - and other newsrooms, including this one.

Malta, we were told, would be different, and the scheme would come equipped with the most rigorous due diligence process possible. Time showed otherwise and the IIP had many failures, as highlighted by the recent Passport Papers investigation.

Many applicants were barely spending a day in Malta, and most of these millionaires were renting out dingy places in areas like Gzira and St Paul’s Bay, rather than buying expensive villas. The required ‘genuine link’ for some applicants went only as far as proving that they bought pastizzi from Serkin or a Red Bull from Havana.

There were also individuals who, legally in their own countries could not have obtained citizenship from other states. And there were many signs that the government of Malta actually assisted these individuals in breaking their national laws, including by accepting to hide their names from the citizenship list.

The IIP has since been scrapped and replaced by a new one run by a state agency. The government says the new scheme it has put in place has “addressed all concerns” pertaining to the Henley-run scheme.

But it is very clear that the European Commission does not agree. The Maltese government has argued that issues of citizenship fall under national competence, but it seems to be unable to understand that, as of 2008, a Maltese passport is also an EU passport. No country should have the right to grant foreign citizens the rights we enjoy as EU citizens – at least not in exchange for a hefty sum of money.

The government defends the citizenship scheme by saying that it has funded many social projects. On Wednesday – on the same day that the EU stepped up its infringement procedure – the Prime Minister announced that €8 million had been given to Hospice Malta to turn an existing care home into a palliative care facility.

Without wanting to politicise the matter, the timing was suspicious, to say the least.

Social projects are always to be lauded, but using the money form a dubious scheme to fund social projects does not make that scheme any less dubious.

We have always stood against the concept of selling citizenship for money, and that will not change. Malta’s citizenship programme will always remain controversial, irrespective of whether it is run by an international agency with a bad reputation or by a state entity.

The matter could now end up at the highest European court. The government needs to realise once and for all that the continued reputational damage that will stem from this dragged-out battle is simply not worth it.

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