‘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