EU parliament demands end to ‘golden passports’ for Russians

Long overdue, not just for Russians:

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to end the practice of EU countries selling citizenship and visas to rich individuals.

It comes in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with many wealthy Russians having received EU passports in exchange for significant investments.

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday voted 595 for, 12 against and with 74 abstentions to end the so called ‘golden passport’ schemes.

They are calling for an all out ban on the purchase of citizenship by 2025 but want significantly increased background checks to come into force immediately.

The vote is however not binding. It is now up to the European Commission to outline a detailed proposal of how to end the schemes and then the EU’s national government will have the final say on the matter.

“The system of golden passports and visas carries with it inherent risks of tax evasion, corruption and money laundering.” said Saskia Bricmont MEP, a Green MEP from Belgium. “For too long oligarchs, criminals and corrupt politicians have had the ability to buy their way into Europe and launder their cash, image and identities.”

Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria are the EU countries which have run the most lucrative golden passportschemes.

It is estimated that in the eight-year period until 2019, over €20 billion of investments came into EU countries in this manner.

“The time of asking national governments nicely is over,” said Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veldt during the European Parliament debate. “[We need] the total complete abolition of this procedure, not simply to reduce it but to completely eliminate it.”

Members of the European Parliament accepted in the report that the move would lead to shortfalls in national budgets and allowed for a phased out approach.

Values for sale

The report into the golden passports has been moving through the European Parliament for a while but came into focus when the schemes were specifically mentioned in a joint EU statement alongside the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, in the immediate hours after Russian invaded in Ukraine.

It is unknown exactly how many Russian citizens have received an EU passports through the schemes, but in April 2021 a leak of documents suggested Malta was giving out passports in exhange for investments of around €910,000 ($1 million) and that the income amounted to €432 million the country’s 2018 budget.

When that leak came out, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “European values are not for sale.”

Gaining an EU passport allows the bearer to travel freely within the EU’s border-free Schengen area, to access healthcare in all EU member states, to live and work anywhere, and also to enjoy the tax situation in that country’s jurisdiction.

Damage done

Last minute amendments to the European Parliament’s report saw EU lawmakers demand an immediate end of the schemes for Russians – other nationalities who profit from them like Saudis and Chinese would be included in the phase out.

Many experts warn that while the move comes alongside the cutting sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs who prop him up, those who already have the passports cannot be kicked out.

“The damage is done” Jacob Kirkegaard said senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund told DW. “But at least the war finally may have shamed the relevant national governments into ending this corrupt practice”

EU Commissioner Didier Reynders believes the EU’s position against selling passports is clear

The European Commission, which drafts EU law, rejects the need for new rules to end the golden passport schemes, believing the current legal position in the EU against them is clear.

EU Justice Commission Didier Reynders told the house in Strasbourg that country’s should check the passports which have already been issued and pointed to legal proceedings which were started against Malta and Cyprus in 2020 as evidence that Brussels was already acting to end the schemes.

Source: EU parliament demands end to ‘golden passports’ for Russians

Uncertainty For Malta As US Bill Seeks To Ban Countries Which Sell Citizenship From Visa Waiver Programme

Of note:

Two US Congressmen, from both sides of the American political fence, have presented a bill to exclude countries which sell citizenship from its visa waiver program.

This bill could have serious implications for Malta, which is one of 40 countries that benefit from the program, which allows people to travel to the US for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

Republican Congressman Burgess Owens and Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen have now presented the ‘No Travel for Traffickers Act’, which would revoke a country’s eligibility for the US Visa Waiver Programme if they participate in citizenship-by-investment schemes.

The Act would also direct the US executive to cooperate with the EU and the UK to eliminate Schengen area visa-free travel for countries that sell passports and prohibit US public funds to vet ‘golden passport’ applicants.

“Also known as ‘golden passports’, these schemes require little vetting and are notoriously abused by human traffickers, international criminals, and corrupt oligarchs,” the Congressmen said. “Russia is one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to using these golden passport schemes as a back door into other countries.”

Rep. Owens said the Act signals a critical step “in our efforts to isolate bad actors around the globe”, while Rep. Cohen warned citizenship-by-investment schemes allow traffickers to escape accountability for their crimes. 

Malta launched its original citizenship-by-investment scheme in 2013 but revamped it in 2020, only allowing applicants to apply for citizenship after one year of residence in the country against a €750,000 fee, or after three years if they pay €600,000.

The government has insisted due diligence procedures to vet applicants are among the strictest in the world.

It is facing renewed international pressure to scrap the scheme, including by European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“We can no longer sell passports to Putin’s friends allowing them to circumvent our security. No more,” Metsola said this week.

Source: Uncertainty For Malta As US Bill Seeks To Ban Countries Which Sell Citizenship From Visa Waiver Programme

Sale of citizenship ‘ruining Malta’s reputation’ – PN

Yet another example of the inherent corruption of citizenship-by-investment programs:

A news report saying that a person who bought Maltese citizenship is facing serious accusations of fraud in the United States and Israel in yet another blow to Malta’s reputation, the Nationalist Party said in a statement.

This person was among the first to buy a Maltese passport, another for his wife and for their children, the PN said.

This is the fifth person to buy Maltese citizenship who is facing criminal accusations of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. This brings to nothing the government’s boasting of a four-tier due diligence that is adopted before foreigners are allowed to buy Maltese citizenship.

The PN said that it has always insisted that such a scheme could give a bad image to Malta. Only a few weeks ago a firm involved in the sale of passports was caught boasting of its strong connections with the government.

In the light of this, the PN is once again calling upon the government to suspend the scheme.

Source: Sale of citizenship ‘ruining Malta’s reputation’ – PN

Citizenship [by investment] scheme risks are flagged in EU terror report

Not surprising:

A report about EU-wide money-laundering and terrorism financing risks has again zeroed in on citizenship schemes like the one operated in Malta.

The controversial scheme, introduced by the Labour government after sweeping to power in 2013, allows passport buyers access to an EU passport against payments and investments totalling over €1 million.

Misuse of such schemes, which the European Commission notes are deliberately marketed as a means of acquiring EU citizenship, together with all the rights and privileges associated with it, create a range of risks for the EU.

The Commission’s report was highlighted on the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit’s website this month.

Among the risks identified by the Commission are the possible infiltration of non-EU organised crime groups, as well as money-laundering, corruption and tax evasion possibilities.

Just last week, Identity Malta, the government agency that runs the scheme, confirmed it had initiated the process to withdraw the Maltese citizenship of Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, who has pleaded guilty to fraud and money-laundering in the US.

Another passport recipient, Chinese national Liu Zhongtian, was recently indicted in the United States amid allegations he avoided paying $1.8 billion in aluminium tariffs.

Concern about lack of transparency and governance of the schemes

The Commission says risks associated with citizenship schemes are exacerbated by cross-border rights associated with EU citizenship or residence in a member state. There is also a concern about lack of transparency and governance of the schemes.

Malta’s scheme has been criticised by the Opposition and international bodies for failing to clearly identify who has bought their passport.

Another problem with EU citizenship schemes identified by the Commission is that the procedure of screening applicants is often outsourced to private companies, where there is a permanent risk of conflict of interest and corruption.

It also raises fears that competition between European Union countries could result in a race to the bottom over standards of due diligence and transparency.

In a direct reference to Malta’s scheme, the Commission says Maltese citizenship is popular with wealthy Russians. Saudi Arabians have also invested in the scheme.

It says one Maltese passport buyer, Waleed al-Ibrahim, chairman of the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, was arrested in November 2017 as part of a corruption purge.

The government insists the scheme complies with the highest standards of due diligence.

Source: Citizenship scheme risks are flagged in EU terror report

Two Saudi families buy 62 Maltese passports

Perhaps one of the more glaring examples of the corruption of citizenship by investment programs:

Sixty-two members of two of the richest families in Saudi Arabia became ‘Maltese and EU citizens’ last year after paying millions of euros to buy Malta passports, Times of Malta learnt.

According to the 2017 list of new Maltese citizens, published in The Government Gazette a few days ago, the Al-Muhaidibs and Al-Agils became fully-fledged Maltese citizens last year, even though most of them are minors and might have never set foot on Maltese soil.

The Al-Muhaidibs and the Al-Agils are not only two of the wealthiest business clans in the Saudi kingdom, they are also mentioned by Forbes as among the wealthiest families on the planet.

The Al-Muhaidib Group was established in 1946 and mainly deals in building material and foodstuffs. Group chairman, Sulaiman Al-Muhaidib, who, according to Forbes, has a personal wealth exceeding €3 billion, acquired a Maltese passport last year together with 34 other family members, including his brothers, spouses and their families.

The Government Gazette list, which gives details on a  first name alphabetical order rather than the normal surname module, making it more difficult to distinguish passport buyers from purely new Maltese nationals, indicated that the Al-Agils, who control the Jarir Group business empire, worth over €1.5 billion, procured 27 Maltese passports.

The Jarir Group, which is listed on the Saudi stock exchange and trades in many areas, is controlled by brothers Mohammed, Abdulkarim, Abdulsalam, Abdullah and Naser, all appearing as new Maltese citizens.

Most of them are minors and might have never set foot on Maltese soil

Very little information is given about Malta’s controversial cash for passports scheme, launched in 2014, despite the fact that those who pay large sums of money and buy/rent property on the island are entitled to a Maltese passport, citizenship and the right to vote.

The government has always resisted calls to publish the list of those acquiring Maltese passports through payment and, instead, publishes the names of the new ‘Maltese citizens’ together with hundreds of other names who acquire Maltese citizenship every year through a long legal process, normally through naturalisation.

Read: Henley boasts of cash-for-passports scheme in Malta

Various government spokesmen, including ministers and officials of Identity Malta, have repeatedly shot down calls to make the names of passport buyers’ public, arguing that would jeopardise the scheme’s popularity.

Identity Malta sources told Times of Malta that those buying Maltese passports would not usually be very interested in making such a fact known, especially to their own governments.

A major share of Malta’s passport buyers’ hail from Saudi Arabia as well as other gulf states and far eastern countries. People living in former Soviet republics have also been attracted by the so-called Individual Investor Programme.

More than acquiring Maltese passports, those who fork out €650,000 for every passport and another €25,000 for each dependent would be seeking freedom of movement within the EU since they would also attain EU citizenship as a result.

Although the EU does not look at these schemes positively, it has, so far, tolerated them. This is also due to its limited powers in this area because citizenship rights fall under the direct jurisdiction of member states.

Source: Two Saudi families buy 62 Maltese passports

Malta: Henley and Partners’ profits rise by 500%, selling passports

A lucrative business:

The citizenship planning firm, Henley and Partners, has seen its share of distributed funds from the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) increase by over 500%, calculations by Newsbook.com.mt finds.

The firm is a leader in the process more commonly known in Malta, as the selling of Maltese passports.

Comparing the reporting by the Office of the Regulator for the IIP for the Third and the Fifth Reports (2016 – 2018), the firm has managed to make a significant sum of money through the IIP. The reporting period ranges between the 1st July and 30th June.

In the Third report which includes the profits from the start of the IIP to the 2016/17 reporting period, Henley and Partners managed to make €5.8m from their services.

The publication of the Fifth report last month, now shows that that this number has grown to €28.8m, 500% since the IIP process began

As with previous years, the sums of money that the firm receives come via a Suspense account which is set up to receive the financial contributions, property purchases, rents and investments generated from individuals seeking citizenship.  These elements are written into the Laws of Malta.

Once the individual(s) have made the Oath of Allegiance, these funds are then distributed under IIP guidelines. Henley and Partners is entitled to receive 4% of the contributions as well as 4% of the investments made under the Investment Requirement.

MEPs speak to Henley and Partners

The firm is by no means the only entity in Malta carrying out this process of ‘citizenship planning’ and it is clear from the reporting periods that Identity Malta generates more from the IIP. H&P are however a prime mover and shaker in the investment visa field, a field said to still be in need of proper regulation.

During their investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and wider concerns about Malta, an EU delegation of MEPs from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, spoke to the firm trying to understand more about how the process works, and the firm’s role in it.

Malta and Cyprus are the only two countries which operate the ‘Golden citizenship programme’ within the EU, and according to their discussions with a representative of Henley and Partners, they found that they facilitate only 40% of the total number of applications for Malta.

With EU sanctions imposed on Russia and Russians being one of Malta’s citizenship clientele, the delegation raised concerns about a number of those blacklisted under EU sanctions who had managed to receive citizenship through their programme. H&P insisted that their due diligence processes were ‘very reliable’. The continued saying that the process is, ‘extremely serious and rather lengthy’ and that, ‘it is not easy to get citizenship rapidly’.

The representative added that they cooperate with the government and other organisations in cross checking the identities and backgrounds of those making applications.

The delegation report states that rejection rates for Russians have been going up and this is consistent with the 25% overall rejection rate that currently stands in Malta.

Applications are down but demand is steady

The latest regulator report shows that numbers of applications have dropped in the yearly reporting period, standing at 330, 47 less than the last year.

However, numbers from Europe remain high at 141 applications, 42.7%. Asia has also grown to 107 this year, 32.4%. This is 11%  greater than last and four times greater than 2015 figures (8.6%).

The Middle East has seen a 5.6% drop its numbers with only 26 applications made. Individuals from African states on the other hand, submitted 30 applications this year (9.1%), almost 4% more than 2016/17 reporting.

Overall, the number of approved applications was 223, making the total to June 2018, 961. This offsets the number of rejected or withdrawn applications which currently sits at 75.

Turning serious money into solid investment

Investment clients ‘are obliged to invest in a residential immovable property in Malta, either by acquiring and holding one having a minimum value of €350,000 or by taking one on lease for a minimum annual rent of €16,000.’ This is stipulated under the IIP Regulations.

Over this year’s reporting period, the total amount of property purchased as part of the IIP’s investment regulations sits at €29,600,500. This covers the value of 25 properties averaging €1,184,020 in value.

Sliema and St Julians are the most favourable places for this property, accounting for 72% of those purchased.

According to the 2016/17 report, there were 80 properties purchased, more than this year. The favourable locations of those properties remains consistent with this year.

Over 200 (231) other properties were being leased for a contractual duration of 5 years. This amounts to a total of €23,062,687.64, averaging €95,695.80 per contract and €19,139.16 per lease.

These leased properties are found across 26 different areas in Malta with Sliema and St Julians emerging as the most favourable again, 35% and 21% respectively.

Last year’s figures show that the number of leased properties was over double that of this reporting period. 483 properties were leased by investment clients. Their locations are also as varied as this year’s report.

They didn’t speak to me, they didn’t look at the reports

This year’s report opens with some criticism from the regulator, Mr Carmel DeGabriele. In his foreword to the report, he talks about his disappointment that members of the EU delegation that visited Malta, did not consult with him or look at the previous reporting or frameworks that the IIP use to vet potential citizenship candidates and use the funds.

He says that, ‘none of the fact-finding missions which came over to Malta from both the European Commission and the European Parliament as well as other institutions that have decided to criticize the running of this Programme have even bothered to request a meeting with the undersigned or any of the members of my Office or seem to have at least carefully studied any of this Office’s past Annual Reports before expressing in one way or another their deep concerns over this Programme.’

He also readdressed the question that the contributions that are paid in through the regulations go towards the country’s improvement.

‘It has already been spelt out that the income which the Government is and will be deriving from this Programme will in the coming months and years play an extremely important role in the country’s infrastructural boom and social development.’

Source: Henley and Partners’ profits rise by 500%, selling passports

The EU Is Demanding A Critical Change To Malta’s Sale Of Citizenship Scheme

Overdue (and likely not enough):

The European Commission demanded Malta revamp its controversial sale-of-citizenship scheme to ensure new Maltese citizens live on the island for at least a year.

“Becoming a Maltese citizen means becoming an EU citizen and gaining the benefits of free movement,” EU Justice Commissioner Vĕra Jourová said during a visit to Malta this afternoon. “The European Commission must ensure that Malta only gives citizenship to people with a real link to the country and who reside in it for at least a year.”

Jourová’s warning will come as a blow to the Maltese government, which often rebuts criticism at the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) by insisting that the European Commission has no problem with it.

While acknowledging that member states have sovereignty over citizenship schemes, Jourová pledged to continue raising concerns about potential threats posed by the IIP.

“We must not enable suspicious people to acquire European citizenship through an easy way and use it to launder money or to pose some sort of security threats to the continent,” she said. “We have a legitimate right to require some basic parameters for citizenship scheme.”

She said the European Commission is currently analysing all EU citizenship schemes, including Malta’s IIP, ahead of a detailed report that will be published by the end of the year.

“If it turns out that this assessment isn’t favourable to the Maltese IIP, then I believe we will be able to work hand in hand with the Maltese authorities to improve the system.”

Jourová’s assessment came after she met key players in the industry today, including the IIP’s chief executive officer Jonathan Cardona.

The IIP requires applicants to pay €650,000 to the government as well as to invest in government bonds and to either buy a property worth at least €350,000 or to rent a property out for at least €16,000 over five years. However, it doesn’t require applicants to actually live on the island – a fact that was probed by the BBC alongside Daphne Caruana Galizia a few months before her assassination.

Source: The EU Is Demanding A Critical Change To Malta’s Sale Of Citizenship Scheme

ICYMI: Here Is A List Of Everyone Who Got A Maltese Passport Last Year – Lovin Malta

Great example of false transparency – providing all information in a manner not susceptible to analysis:

The government has finally released a list of every single person who bought a Maltese passport in 2016.

It includes their names and surnames – more than enough to do some background checking to see whether there is anything we should know about them (see below for more details).

There’s only one problem – the names are buried in a list of the 2,182 people who became naturalised Maltese citizens in 2016.

Instead of printing them in separate lists, both citizenship buyers as well as citizenship earners have been combined in one large list.

There are no markers by their names, or any other way to figure out that those specific people had bought their Maltese citizenship through the Individual Investment Programme.

The Malta Government Gazette published the list, and when the Times of Malta asked for a breakdown of the passport buyers names, they were rejected.

As you’d expect, the list contains a lot of foreign surnames, including Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern surnames.

The government, for its part, has maintained that these new citizens are now Maltese citizens equal to any other, and publishing their names in a separate list or marking them out could be discriminatory.

It has also said that publishing their names could jeopardise the success of the scheme since most of the buyers preferred to keep their personal information discrete.

While exact numbers on how many people have actually bought their Maltese passport have never been released, there seems to be 1,101 main applicants according to the government-appointed regulator’s most recent report, released in June.

This comes after a delegation of MEPs that visited Malta last month on a rule of law fact-finding mission asked the Prime Minister for full list of Maltese passport-buyers, only to be rejected on the grounds that giving them that list would be illegal

It’s also worth noting that by December 2017, there was €360 million in the National Development and Social Fund, where a majority of the IIP’s profits go.

A Maltese passport can be bought for about €650,000 alongside a five-year investment into Maltese property or bond.

Want to be an investigative journalist for a day?
The government has printed the 2,182 names of naturalised citizens for 2016. If you’ve got some spare time and want to be a part of our investigation, here’s how you can help

  • Go to the latest issue of the Government Gazzette

  • Go to page 14,018

  • Select some names and Google them

  • Email us at hello@lovinmalta.com if you think you might have found someone worth looking into

  • Google some of these names, and if you find something you think is interesting, contact us at hello@lovinmalta.com.

via Here Is A List Of Everyone Who Got A Maltese Passport Last Year – Lovin Malta

Malta’s “due diligence” of rich passport buyers gets glowing review

Different meaning of “due diligence”:

Malta’s due diligence of people applying to buy citizenship has been held up as “a textbook example” of effectiveness and reliability by Thomson Reuters.
Peter Vincent, general counsel at the Canadian company that provides intelligence services, said Malta’s Individual Investor Programme provided a high standard of due diligence.

“Malta has a reputation for having a very solid programme for citizenship and residency that has very secure due diligence processes in place and transparency. It’s by no means perfect but there is no completely secure system in the world but if you are looking for a model, not just for the EU but for the entire world, I would look to a country like Malta,” Vincent said in an interview with Investment Migration Insider, an industry journal.

Thomson Reuters is one of the companies used by Identity Malta to help it in the screening of prospective clients.

Vincent was speaking on the price war in the Caribbean over citizenship programmes, which was affecting due diligence standards in the region.

“Malta is a textbook example of how to conduct effective and reliable due diligence,” he said, adding that Identity Malta should look beyond its remit and mentor other countries still trying to develop their programmes.

The IIP was introduced amid much controversy in 2014 with the aim of attracting rich foreign nationals interested in buying Maltese citizenship. The scheme has enabled the country to create a multi-million euro fund administered separately from government accounts.

The programme last year raised some €165 million and is capped at 1,800 applications, a number likely to be reached some time next year.

The government has been criticised by the European Parliament because the names of those who obtain citizenship through the IIP are not published separately. Instead, the names are included without any specific identifier with those of others who obtain citizenship through naturalisation.

At a recent citizenship forum organised by Henley and Partners, the company entrusted to manage and market Malta’s scheme, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Malta will be extending its citizenship by investment programme.

He told his audience in Hong Kong the second IIP programme would be “even more exclusive” than the current version, without elaborating further.

via Malta’s due diligence of rich passport buyers gets glowing review

These are the countries you can ‘buy’ citizenship to – Business Insider

Another good overview of the various schemes, and the relative advantages for those shopping for citizenship:

Most countries offer citizenship (passports) the hard way. But 7 sell them outright, and 3 have “powerful” passports. “Citizenship Planning” is a thing.

For people who need a second citizenship and passport to dodge the long arm of their government, there is something called “citizenship planning,” similar to “financial planning.” But when it comes to just outright buying a citizenship and passport without having to languish for years as mere non-citizen resident, the Huddled Masses need not apply. And not any passport will do. In fact, there are only three for sale that are really good.

Which are the best passports to get?

There are quality standards for everything, especially if it’s costly. The most powerful passports are those that allow visa-free travel to the most countries.

There are other considerations, for example those that drive US citizens nuts when they live overseas, due to the US government’s onerous reporting requirements on them and on banks that do business with them, and due to US taxation of their worldwide income no matter where they live. Few other governments treat their citizens that way.

In terms of visa-free travel, here are the 25 countries with the most powerful passports, according to a new ranking by Henley & Partners, which is into “citizenship planning.” But among them is only – Austria – one whose citizenship can be bought (more on that in a moment):

  1. Germany: visa-free travel to 176 countries.
  2. Sweden: 175 countries
  3. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, and the US: 174 countries.
  4. Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, UK: 173 countries
  5. Republic of Ireland, Japan, New Zealand: 172 countries
  6. Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland: 171 countries
  7. Australia, South Korea: 170 countries
  8. Iceland: 169 countries.

And how do you get one of those passports?

In most countries, the hard way: Legally immigrate and obtain residency, and then fulfill the residency requirements to get citizenship and that second passport, which takes years. Most countries, including the US, have special programs for “investors” to obtain residency, such as a green card, essentially on the spot, but even then it takes years to obtain citizenship and a passport. If it’s possible at all, such as in Germany.

Then there’s the direct way: Buy a citizenship and the passport that comes along with it. These citizenship-by-investment programs are not for folks on a tight budget. According to Henley & Partners, only seven countries offer this convenient route, only three have powerful passports, and only one is in the top of the heap above.

Passports from EU countries are the best. If you’re from Russia or China or Iraq and become a citizen of one of the 28 EU countries, you’ll get a country-specific EU passport that allows you to live and do business anywhere in the EU. There are all sorts of offshore benefits. And travel around the world is a breeze.

But citizenship in most EU countries is not for sale. You can buy only residency, similar to programs in the US. But there are three exceptions:

Austria

Citizenship is almost impossible to get for normal foreigners already legally in Austria. But the super-rich and famous have a way. The government, through paragraph 10, section 6 of the Citizenship Act, can confer citizenship “because of the services already provided by the foreigner and the extraordinary achievements still to be expected of him in the special interest of the Republic.” This usually involves a big direct investments of unspecified magnitude plus some other “extraordinary” contribution, such as being famous or creating jobs. Few succeed. In some years, none succeed.

They’re playing hard to get. But the rewards are huge for the few that succeed, including an impeccable EU passport with visa-free travel to 173 countries.

Cyprus

In 2012, as the EU-part of the divided island was veering toward bankruptcy, it offered citizenship through a “fast-track” scheme to dodge the normal residency requirements. But the price tag was €10 million in direct investment. Too expensive for the average oligarch.

In 2013, Cyprus became desperate. Its offshore financial industry, the main breadwinner of the economy, had collapsed in a cesspool of corruption. The banks had taken much of the foreign money – particularly Russian money – down with them. Cyprus needed some moolah. It slashed the price of citizenship to €3 million of direct investment. Russians who’d lost at least €3 million in the collapse would also be eligible for citizenship.

Since then, the price was further slashed, to as low as €2 million. And it’s fast: about three months for citizenship and an EU passport, with visa-free travel to 159 countries. And that €3-million investment can be sold after three years. An adequate house would likely do.

Malta

The tiny EU member state with 417,000 residents spread over three islands is convenient for foreigners, with English being one of the two official languages. In 2013, during the still rough waters of the euro debt crisis, Parliament passed legislation that put Maltese citizenship up for sale at €650,000. A spouse costs another €25,000; unmarried children between 18 and 25 and dependent parents cost €50,000 each. There are no residency or investment requirements. The money goes into government funds.

This citizenship is a product to be marketed. If it sells 100 per year at €650,000 a pop, it would generate annual revenues of €65 million – or 1.75% of total 2016 revenues (€3.7 billion). Given the limits on budget deficits under EU Treaties, everything counts.

This Maltese product includes an EU passport with visa-free travel to 166 countries. Folks can stop by, jump through some bureaucratic hoops, pay, get their citizenship and passport, and settle in Germany or wherever. At the time, Simon Busuttil, leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, warned that Malta could end up being compared to shady tax havens in the Caribbean. And that’s our last stop.

Source: These are the countries you can ‘buy’ citizenship to – Business Insider