EU looks to suspend Vanuatu from visa-free travel list over ‘citizenship for sale’ scheme

Of note. Welcome belated crackdown:

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed suspending visa-free travel between the bloc and the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The move, which would be a global first, is aimed at curbing the practice of offering “golden passports.”

In Vanuatu, foreigners can obtain citizenship and a passport in exchange for a minimum investment of $130,000 in the country. This in turn grants them easier access to other nations, including the 27 countries that make up the European Union.

The European Commission had issued a warning that it would take this step if Vanuatu did not alter its investment-for-citizenship program. The proposal now goes to individual EU member states for approval.

If the Commission proposal is adopted, it would end visa-free travel for anyone who has acquired Vanuatu citizenship since 2015. The ban will be dropped if the government amends the rules, the Commission said.

In the proposal, the EU executive pointed to the extremely risky nature of the scheme, arguing that it accepted essentially all applicants without sufficient screening, despite some appearing in Interpol’s security databases.

Cyprus, Malta also in hot water

The Commission said it is currently monitoring similar programs or planned schemes in several other countries, including Caribbean islands and the eastern European nations of Albania, Moldova, and Montenegro.

Similar programs in Cyprus and Malta, both EU members, are currently facing legal challenges from Brussels.

Source: EU looks to suspend Vanuatu from visa-free travel list over ‘citizenship for sale’ scheme

Syrian’s Vanuatu passport cancelled after revelations about ‘honorary citizenship programs’ – 18-Aug-2021 – NZ International news

Of note:

In the midst of the pandemic, Vanuatu’s “cash for passports” scheme is helping to keep its economy afloat.

With its tourism industry smashed, the Pacific nation last year generated $175 million — 35 per cent of total government revenue — from its “honorary citizenship programs”.

However, after a Guardian investigation discovered that recipients included a “slew of disgraced businesspeople and individuals sought by police” — including Australians — the government is facing a tough choice between potential international sanctions or domestic economic pain.

Vanuatu’s first citizenship by investment scheme, known as “cash for passports” locally, was introduced in 2014 and has had several iterations since, including one intended to raise money after Cyclone Pam caused widespread devastation in 2015.

Many countries have similar schemes, including Australia, but usually, applicants are required to become permanent residents first and then only after a number of years do they become eligible to become a citizen.

Under Vanuatu’s scheme, successful applicants can become citizens within a matter of months and there is no requirement to reside in the country or even set foot on Vanuatu soil at all.

It costs around $US150,000 ($200,000) for a single application and more for couples and families. Most of the passports, which allow free access to any EU country, are sold to people from mainland China.

It has long been controversial, but the scheme came under increased scrutiny in July after the Guardian investigation was published.

Last week, the Vanuatu government revealed that the Vanuatu citizenship of a Syrian businessman referred to in the report, Abdul Rhama Khiti, had been revoked.

Vanuatu’s Citizenship Commission chair Ronald Warsal told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program the US government had imposed sanctions against Mr Khiti’s businesses just weeks after he had made his application.

“After the article came out in The Guardian and during the course of the investigation by our Financial Intelligence Unit [FIU] it was decided to have it revoked and money he has paid to be forfeited into government coffers,” Mr Warsal said.

He said the government was investigating more of those mentioned in the article and others that were not.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” he said.

“We want to ensure that people who come to Vanuatu, who obtain Vanuatu citizenship, are not wanted abroad [and] are not fugitives.”

Transparency International Vanuatu chief executive Willie Tokon said it was worrying that the Syrian businessman was able to get approval in the first place and that his citizenship was only revoked when the matter was raised in the media.

“My worry is how come we have all these allegations but the screening by [the] Citizenship Commission and Financial Intelligence Unit didn’t come up with this allegation,” Mr Tokon said.

He said if Vanuatu did not have the capacity to thoroughly vet applicants, it should seek help from Interpol and other agencies.

“If there’s no other way to do it, do it properly. If we don’t have the capacity, we have very strong support from the Australian government in terms of the AFP, they’re providing a lot of support. It needs to be done properly,” he said.

But Mr Warsal said the government had systems in place to do character checks.

“We do [make] the final decision but … it goes through certain processes,” he said, saying it was down to teamwork between immigration, the FIU and the police.

Economics professor Stephen Howes, from the Australian National University, said mishandling of the citizenship programs could have a couple of negative consequences for Vanuatu.

Mr Howes said Vanuatu could become seen as a “risky” country for banks to operate in, or even get added to international money laundering grey or blacklists, which would threaten the country’s ability to access international finance.

“That would further isolate the country and make it harder to form international financial links,” he said.

It could also diminish the value of Vanuatu passports, making it more difficult for Vanuatu citizens to travel.

“Vanuatu citizens might suffer as well if other countries decide that they don’t trust that someone with a valid Vanuatu passport is actually a bonafide Vanuatu citizen,” he said.

On the flip side, if Vanuatu did decide to scrap the citizenship schemes, then they would lose the revenue the country needs to support the population during the pandemic-related economic crisis.

Mr Howes said it was more likely the government would bring in reforms and tighten up the application process.

He said actions like cancelling the citizenship of those like Mr Khiti would show they “won’t take just anyone”.

“If they can show [they have a serious vetting process], that will instil more confidence into the scheme,” he said.

He said abandoning the “unorthodox” source of revenue would be a “really extreme step”.

Not everyone who wanted citizenship of another country and could afford to buy it was necessarily of bad character, he said.

“Think about the uncertainties in China, some people just want a safety net,” he said.

“The world’s a very uncertain place. So I don’t think it means you’re a criminal [if you want to buy citizenship].

“I think it could also mean you’re worried about the future of your country.”

Source: Syrian’s Vanuatu passport cancelled after revelations about ‘honorary citizenship programs’ – 18-Aug-2021 – NZ International news

#Citizenship for sale: fugitives, politicians and disgraced businesspeople buying Vanuatu passports

No surprises here:

A controversial “golden passports” scheme run by the Pacific nation of Vanuatu saw more than 2,000 people, including a slew of disgraced businesspeople and individuals sought by police in countries all over the world, purchase citizenship in 2020 – and with it visa-free access to the EU and UK, the Guardian can reveal.

Among those granted citizenship through the country’s development support program were a Syrian businessman with US sanctions against his businesses, a suspected North Korean politician, an Italian businessman accused of extorting the Vatican, a former member of a notorious Australian motorcycle gang, and South African brothers accused of a $3.6bn cryptocurrency heist.

The passport scheme allows foreign nationals to purchase citizenship for US$130,000 in a process that typically takes just over a month – all without ever setting foot in the country.

Marketed by agencies as one of the fastest, cheapest and most lax “golden passport” schemes anywhere in the world, the development support program grants unfettered, visa-free access to 130 countries including the UK and EU nations. Vanuatu also operates as a tax haven, with no income, corporate or wealth tax.

Experts have warned the scheme is ripe for exploitation, creating a back door for access to the EU and UK and allowing transnational criminal syndicates to establish a base in the Pacific, and Vanuatu’s taxation laws make the country an attractive site for money laundering.

A path to new identities

The passports program, which netted the Vanuatu government more than US$116m last year, has been highly controversial since its relaunch in 2017.

But until now, knowledge of who has bought passports through the scheme has been murky.

A series of internal government documents obtained by the Guardian via the country’s freedom of information scheme, details the name and nationality of every recipient of a Vanuatu passport through the country’s development support program and Vanuatu contribution program in 2020 and January 2021.

After a months-long investigation, involving searching publicly available court records, electoral rolls, death records, social media trails, and discussions with police and sources from around the world, the Guardian has been able to confirm the identities of dozens of the individuals on the list.

Vanuatu issued roughly 2,200 passports in 2020 through these programs – more than half (around 1,200) were to Chinese nationals. After Chinese, the most common nationality of recipients was Nigerian, Russian, Lebanese, Iranian, Libyan, Syrian and Afghan. Twenty people from the US, six Australians and a handful of people from Europe were also among those who applied.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/jul/2021-07-07T05:01:43/embed.html

The citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme is not illegal and many countries around the world offer CBI programs. There are many legitimate reasons for applying, including improved freedom of movement or tax-free offshore banking privileges.

However, security experts warn that the ease with which people can buy passports from the country, as well as the travel it permits, could make it an attractive scheme for members of transnational criminal syndicates, allowing them a legitimate base in the Pacific.

“It’s not just that they can travel through the EU or set up businesses … one of the issues is being able to create these networks to the Pacific, especially as the Pacific becomes more of a trafficking hub for drugs,” said Jose Sousa-Santos, a Pacific policy fellow at the Australian Pacific Security College. “And Vanuatu’s tax semi-haven laws make it very attractive for money laundering.”

The Guardian has found that a number of Vanuatu applicants are heavily implicated in a complex web of offshore business, with some owning shell companies with no discernible business activity.

Sousa-Santos added that another potential danger was people obtaining Vanuatu citizenship and then legally changing their name in Vanuatu, which effectively gave them a new identity.

“It’s one of the real risks,” he said. “If you are somebody who is a person of interest and who was able to somehow clear the Vanuatu Financial Intelligence Unit process, once you have Vanuatu citizenship, you’re able to change your name and, of course, be able to enter countries where your criminal background would not allow you to.”

In one brochure advertising the country’s development support program by a registered agent, the agency answers a question about whether passport recipients can change their name. “Once you are granted citizenship, you can change your name by sending us a letter that explains your motivation to change your name and your passport will be issued with your new name,” the brochure reads.

In response to these concerns, Ronald Warsal, the chairman of the Vanuatu Citizenship Office and Commission, said: “Vanuatu is a signatory to … most internationally sanctioned treaties and has ratified such treaties in recent years prohibiting transnational criminal syndicates to operate within its [jurisdiction] and as such, it is hard for international criminal syndicates to establish a base in Vanuatu.” He also said the country required checks before allowing a legal change of name.

EU concerns

Both the EU and the OECD have continued to express concerns regarding due diligence measures, forcing Vanuatu to promise it would step up background checks last year in an attempt to clean up the programs’ image. 

Despite this, the documents show that as recently as January 2021, Vanuatu was selling passports to individuals with links to fraud or sanctions and others who were sought by police in their home countrie

Other people granted passports by Vanuatu include:

  • Raees and Ameer Cajee, the founders of cryptocurrency investment platform Africrypt, who have been accused by lawyers for their former investors of a “crypto heist”, allegedly disappearing with bitcoin valued at roughly $3.6bn (£2.6bn), claims they deny.
  • Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian businessman accused of extorting Vatican officials of €15m (US$17.7m) during the purchase of a valuable London property. Torzi has denied wrongdoing.
  • Hayyam Garipoglu, a Turkish banking mogul imprisoned over a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandal, and also sentenced to prison for harbouring his nephew after his nephew murdered a 17-year-old girl.
  • Ghali Belkecir, the controversial former head of Algeria’s Gendarmerie, the country’s military force in charge of law enforcement, who has four warrants out for his arrest.
  • Khaled al-Ahmad, a Syrian businessman and close advisor to President Assad, also obtained Vanuatu citizenship in June 2019, according to documents separately obtained by the Guardian.

In response to the Guardian’s inquiries about the individuals, Floyd Mera, the director of Vanuatu’s Financial Intelligence Unit, said: “Reading your list, most have allegations, pending investigations and ongoing court proceedings. A few have cases against them only after obtaining Vanuatu citizenship … If there are substantial convictions against any of these names, their citizenship may be revoked.”

He added: “Going forward, the FIU will conduct enhanced checks on the names provided in your list. If any of these persons have criminal convictions, FIU will promptly inform Citizenship Office of the updated information.”

The Guardian also believes there may be a senior North Korean politician and his wife who were granted citizenship after applying for the scheme using Chinese passports.

The names of a man and a woman who applied for passports last year match those of a well-known senior North Korean politician and his wife, though the Guardian has not been able to confirm the couple’s identity.

On paper, Vanuatu prevents citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and North Korea from obtaining citizenship unless they can prove they have been a resident outside these countries for more than five years. However, the Guardian was able to identify a number of applicants from those countries who were resident within the black-listed countries at the time of applying.

A Syrian construction and real estate magnate with sanctions against a number of his businesses appears on the document. Abdul Rahman Khiti purchased Vanuatu citizenship just a few weeks after the US imposed sanctions on a number of his businesses.

Warsal, of Vanuatu’s Citizenship Office and Commission, said: “Abdul Rahman Khiti’s application was lodged prior to sanctions on a number of his business and by the time his application came before the screening committee and the FIU there was no adverse finding against him and the commission approved his application.”

Warsal said that Khiti also provided proof of his residency outside Syria for five years prior to applying. He added that the Citizenship Commission would be further investigating Khiti’s citizenship.

A source of revenue

Vanuatu is one of the poorest countries in the world, with the World Bank putting GDP per capita at US$2,780. The country is heavily in debt, in large part due to the natural disasters that have hit it. After a crippling cyclone in 2014, the country’s debt stock-to-GDP ratio climbed from 23% to 47% in 2018.

The sale of passports is the largest source of revenue for the Vanuatu government, with analysis by Investment Migration Insider finding it accounted for 42% of all government revenue in 2020.

In June 2021, the government reported a budget surplus despite the Covid-19 pandemic, largely thanks to the continued demand for citizenship, and the government has used the profits to pay down debts.

“There is merit [to the scheme],” said Ralph Regenvanu, the opposition leader of Vanuatu. “It just needs to be done a lot better than we’ve done it to date.”

Asked what advantage there is to Vanuatu, Regenvanu is blunt.

“Money. For a country with very limited resources, it’s money.”

Regenvanu said more robust processes needed to be implemented to screen applicants, in particular the enactment of an order that was issued by the former government – in which he was foreign minister – in March, which ordered an international specialist firm to be involved in due diligence checks.

“The only checks are the Financial Intelligence Unit and that’s obviously, as you found out, just totally inadequate … Our FIU obviously doesn’t have the capacity.”

Warsal said “the government is in its final stages to engage a European international reputable firm to assist the VFIU in its due diligence processes.”

But many in Vanuatu see the scheme as an affront to the sovereignty of the young country, which achieved independence from France and the UK in 1980 after almost a decade of struggle.

Ati George Sokomanu was a key figure in the country’s struggle for independence in the 1970s and was appointed as Vanuatu’s foundation president in 1980 after independence. He said the cash-for-passports scheme “tarnished” the vision of a free and proud Vanuatu they fought for during the independence movement.

“The gospel that we preached was to do with the return of the land from the hands of the foreigners – that we should have our own passport, that we would be a free people, we should have our own flag, and you know, be somebody in the face of this world,” he said.

“We struggled for our freedom and we gained it. And why should we break our sovereignty and our own dignity by making us become slaves again by selling our own passport to other people?”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/15/citizenship-for-sale-fugitives-politicians-and-disgraced-businesspeople-buying-vanuatu-passports?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Related article: Want a new life in Vanuatu? Take the lift to the 23rd floor of a skyscraper in Hong Kong

If you wanted a new life on a tropical island and had US$130,000 to spare, you might end up visiting the 23rd floor of a nondescript building in downtown Hong Kong.

In the busy district of Wanchai, on a corner peppered with home decoration shops, car dealerships and small eateries full to the brim during lunch break, is the Tung Wai commercial building.

A bright entrance – now equipped with disinfection trappings and temperature-taking devices – leads to the fast lifts that will take you from the traffic din to what could be described as the Vanuatu floor.

Room 2303 hosts the Consulate General of the Republic of Vanuatu, with a large sticker on the glass door with Vanuatu’s coat of arms – a Melanesian warrior holding a long spear with one hand, standing against a mountain, with two crossed namale fern fronds and, behind the greenery, a curly boar’s tusk. Underneath it is Vanuatu’s national motto, Long God Yumi Stanap, which is Bislama (one of the three official languages of Vanuatu, together with English and French) for “In God we stand”.

Next to the consulate is the Vanuatu Trade Commission, which sits next to the office of Vanuatu Companies Limited, and the two offices of the PRG (Pacific Resource Group) Consulting Limited and PRG ImmiMart Limited.

The first company assists with investments and trade in Vanuatu, while PRG ImmiMart Limited has been appointed as the “Worldwide Exclusive Sole Master Marketing Agent to promote the Contribution Program” by the Vanuatu government via the company Vanuatu Glory Limited (VGK).

PRG handles all preliminary work for those who wish to purchase Vanuatu citizenship through the country’s Vanuatu Contribution Program (VCP), which costs $130,000 per person, or $180,000 for a family package.

Last year, more than 650 people were granted citizenship through the VCP. The huge majority were Chinese nationals, with just nine people applying for the scheme with nationalities other than Chinese.

The sale of passports is the largest source of revenue for the Vanuatu government, with analysis by Investment Migration Insider finding it accounted for 42% of all government revenue in 2020. The appeal of a Vanuatu passport includes that it offers visa-free travel to UK and EU countries and that Vanuatu – with no wealth, income or corporate taxes – operates as a tax haven.

PRG ImmiMart Limited is the sole agent in the world licensed to market this program, and according to one of the agents at the office, the company keeps $100,000 of the $180,000 fee for a family application, with the remaining $80,000 going to the Vanuatu government. They did not clarify what portion of the fee for an individual application went to the company.

The VCP is a separate scheme to the Development Support Program (DSP), which is managed by different agencies. The Guardian’s investigation into the identities of those who obtained citizenship of Vanuatu was focused on the DSP and not this scheme.

In the visitors’ office – an air-conditioned room with the flag of Vanuatu next to the Hong Kong SAR flag and a breath-taking view over Eastern Hong Kong island – Hin Ho, an agent, shows the brochures and the itemised table with the citizenship fees and charges, and explains how to apply for a Vanuatu passport and legally recognised citizenship.

The application process is straightforward, and shouldn’t take longer than eight weeks and does not require applicants to set foot in Vanuatu. It is such a well-established system that the brochure even specifies that the screening committee normally meets on the last Thursday of every month, while the citizenship committee meeting takes place on the last Friday of every month.

Money and no criminal record seem to be the main requirements for the “high quality new immigrants” scheme, with applicants required to provide a police clearance certificate, and asset proof of no less than $250,000 – excluding the amount that is being paid to the VCP to obtain citizenship.

Once approved, applicants can take an oath of allegiance in the building, after which they are handed a citizenship certificate and passport, and they can go down the fast lifts and exit into Gloucester Road having become a legally recognised citizen of the small Pacific Ocean archipelago.

Given the high cost, VCP may not be much help to the large numbers of people who want to leave Hong Kong for security reasons since the introduction of the National Security Law. But for wealthier passport chasers, keen for the peace of mind that may be granted by an alternative passport, the little green book of a Vanuatu passport might be just the ticket.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/15/want-a-new-life-in-vanuatu-take-the-lift-to-the-23rd-floor-of-a-skyscraper-in-hong-kong

‘Plain cruel’: Vanuatu stops newspaper chief boarding plane home after China stories

Another reminder of the influence of China:

The media director of a Vanuatu newspaper whose visa renewal was refused this month has been barred from flying home to Vanuatu from Brisbane with his partner.

Dan McGarry, who has lived in Vanuatu for 16 years, applied to have his work permit renewed earlier this year but it was rejected. McGarry believes his visa was refused due to articles he had published about China’s influence in Vanuatu.

In July the Daily Post broke the story of Vanuatu deporting six Chinese nationals – four of whom had obtained Vanuatu citizenship – without due process or access to legal counsel.

McGarry said he was “quite confident” it was that series of reports which had upset the government.

McGarry, who is Canadian, left the country to attend a forum in Brisbane on media freedom in Melanesia, at which leading journalists and the editors from the region spoke about attacks on journalistic freedom in the region and discussed his case in detail.

Vanuatu’s Big Moneymaker: Selling Citizenship

Yet another example:

Vanuatu is reviewing its “passports for sale” scheme over concerns that inadequate scrutiny of the mainly Chinese applicants risks undermining the visa-free access it enjoys with the EU.

Since it was launched in 2016, the citizenship program has issued some 4,000 passports and generated more than $200 million in government revenue for Vanuatu, mostly from Chinese applicants eager to obtain a passport that provides visa-free access to 129 countries, including the EU.

Vanuatu is not alone in selling citizenship, although most countries, such as the U.K. or U.S., require investments in businesses or government bonds before handing over a passport or residence permit. But the popularity of the program sets the archipelago apart. In fact:

IN 2018, PASSPORT SALES GENERATED A THIRD OF VANUATU’S GOVERNMENT REVENUES.

But a series of scandals, including the deportation of six Chinese nationals in July at the request of Beijing — four of whom held Vanuatu passports — has led the EU to express its concerns about the program’s controls.

“We are getting some negative implications as a result of the lack of due diligence on applicants to get citizenships, which is affecting our bilateral relations with other countries,” says Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s minister for foreign affairs.

“So, it’s important for us to take stock, stop some aspects of the program and make the other aspects better.”

The review comes amid wider worries in the west over Chinese influence in the Pacific, where Beijing has funneled $6 billion in development aid since 2011 on infrastructure projects. Chinese universities have developed Pacific language programs and offered hundreds of scholarships to Pacific students to boost educational links.

Beijing’s Pacific push has persuaded six of the region’s island nations to switch their diplomatic allegiance away from Taiwan toward Beijing since 2016. Most of the tiny island nations have populations of fewer than 1 million — just 300,000 people live in Vanuatu — but each has a vote at the U.N. and controls strategic shipping lanes in Pacific waters.

Regenvanu says that because of its limited economic clout, Vanuatu had no choice but to use its votes strategically in international organizations such as the U.N. He said this included targeting infrastructure investment from larger countries, such as China.

“We’re experiencing a surge in Chinese interest in Vanuatu and investment in Vanuatu compared to, for example, Australia, a traditional partner,” says Regenvanu.

He rejected western concerns that Beijing held too much sway in the region. “The important thing is we make sure that our laws that we develop for our benefit are enforced across the board. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

But the deportation of the four Vanuatu passport holders to China undermined this statement. The Daily Post in Vanuatu suggested that Beijing had persuaded the local government to “enforce Chinese law within its own borders.”

Regenvanu says the program review was already underway and would be completed before March parliamentary elections. He said the government was not happy with the level of due diligence on applicants or the structure of a program that requires little more than a $150,000 cash payment to receive Vanuatu citizenship.

“The challenge is oversight and regulation; just who exactly is getting these passports?” asked Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific program at the Lowy institute, a think tank.

Pryke continued, “Vanuatu passports are appealing, they’re relatively cheap and have no requirement for a minimum amount of time or investment in the country itself, just a cash payment.”

Source: Vanuatu’s Big Moneymaker: Selling Citizenship

Why Vanuatu’s lucrative ‘passports for sale’ scheme is popular among Chinese nationals

Yet another example of citizenship-by-investment and related abuses:

Are you in the market for a second passport? One that can get you into scores of countries — including Europe, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia — without needing a visa?

Key Points:

  • Applicants can become a Vanuatu citizen without needing to set foot in the country
  • It costs about $220,000 for a single application and more for couples and families
  • More than 4,000 passports have been sold under the scheme, with most to Chinese citizens

Or perhaps you’d like to park your money in a tax haven where there are no personal or corporate income taxes.

Maybe you’d just like to get away from the rat race and live on a picturesque tropical island in the South Pacific.

Vanuatu, then, could be the place for you.

These are some of the selling points of Vanuatu’s citizenship by investment scheme, or cash-for-passports as it’s also known locally.

Sales have been booming in recent years, providing the Government with an unexpected but lucrative source of revenue.

But not everyone is happy about the scheme, with several prominent locals — including former presidents and high-ranking chiefs — saying it undermines the value of Vanuatu citizenship and the country’s fight to gain independence from its former colonial masters, the French and British.

The recent deportation of a group of Chinese nationals, some of whom had obtained Vanuatu citizenship, focused even more adverse attention on the scheme.

So how does it work?

Many countries have citizenship by investment schemes but often applicants are required to become permanent residents first and then only after a number of years do they become eligible to become a citizen.

Under Vanuatu’s scheme, successful applicants can become citizens within a matter of months, and there’s no requirement to reside in the country or even set foot on Vanuatu soil at all.

It costs around $US150,000 ($220,900) for a single application and more for couples and families.

Vanuatu citizenship for sale

Interested parties submit their applications through agents who’ve been approved by the Citizenship’s Office and Commission, which oversees the entire process.

The job of screening an applicant’s criminal and financial backgrounds is performed by the Government’s Financial Intelligence Unit.

If their client’s application is successful, the agent pockets around a third of the application fee.

Once approved, freshly minted citizens can then apply for the real prize, a Vanuatu passport.

Why does the Vanuatu Government sell passports?

Pure and simple: to raise revenue. There have been several iterations of Vanuatu’s citizenship by investment scheme since it was first introduced in 2014.

The aim of one of them was to raise money to rebuild the country after Cyclone Pam caused widespread devastation in 2015.

Despite the rising tide of domestic criticism, the Government has largely remained tight-lipped about how many passports have been sold and how much money has been raised.

But in June, a parliamentary committee told local media that more than 4,000 passports had been sold under the scheme.

The Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper examined government financial statements and found that sales sky-rocketed last year, with 1,800 passports sold in 2018 alone.

Most have been sold to people from mainland China even though it’s technically illegal to hold dual citizenship under Chinese law.

What does the deportation of six Chinese nationals have to do with the scheme?

Six Chinese nationals were arrested in the capital Port Vila in late June and later deported back to China at the request of Beijing law enforcement officials.

The group was allegedly running an online financial scam targeting people back in China.

Before their deportation it emerged that four of them had successfully applied for Vanuatu citizenship and obtained passports.

Critics of the citizenship by investment scheme said the incident validated their concerns that undesirable people were buying passports for nefarious purposes.

Vanuatu’s founding president Ati George Sokomanu said the sale of Vanuatu citizenship was demeaning to those who had struggled to achieve the country’s independence.

“The Government needs to state clearly how many passports have been sold, who they’ve been sold to, and how much revenue the sales have generated,” Mr Sokomanu said.

The Financial Intelligence Unit later said none of the deported Chinese nationals had a criminal record and Chinese officials informed local authorities of their investigation after they had been granted citizenship.

Source: Why Vanuatu’s lucrative ‘passports for sale’ scheme is popular among Chinese nationals