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Scandalous Maltese golden passport scheme goes to court; EU-wide solution still needed

On Thursday, 29 September, the European Commission announced it would refer Malta to the EU Court of Justice for its continued refusal to end its golden passport investor citizenship scheme. The Commission maintains that the programme is at odds with EU treaties, which require citizenship to be based on a “genuine link” to the country, such as a physical residency requirement. In turn the Maltese government insists that citizenship is a matter of strictly national competence, while continuing to grant citizenship to applicants not residing there.

The Commission has shown its commitment to ending individual citizenship-for-sale schemes, with some success as Cyprus and Bulgaria stopped their programmes in recent years. But it has yet to respond to calls, including from Transparency International and the European Parliament, to completely ban golden passports and mandate specific rules for residence-by-investment schemes.

Maíra Martini, corrupt money flows expert at Transparency International, said:

“Despite overwhelming evidence that golden passport schemes put the entirety of the EU block at risk, Malta refuses to put a final end to its programme. We are glad the European Commission is keeping the pressure on Malta by referring it to the EU Court of Justice, but it is unfortunate the situation devolved to this point – and further action is needed to mitigate the dangers posed by the scheme. We call on the Commission to seek the scheme’s suspension as an interim measure before the judgment is delivered.

“To prevent future schemes from popping up, the European Commission needs to stop dragging its feet and find a sustainable, EU-wide solution. This means banning golden passports and regulating visas that have long exposed the EU to dodgy individuals and dirty funds.”

Roland Papp, senior policy officer on illicit financial flows at Transparency International EU, said:

“Investment migration schemes across the EU are riddled with corruption – and previously-awarded passports along with the issuance of any new visas will continue to allow shady actors to utilise loopholes until the Commission takes comprehensive action.

“Reportedly, Russians – including those sanctioned over Ukraine – have acquired nearly half of the golden passports issued to date. Especially at a time when elites are attempting to hide their dirty money across Europe to evade sanctions, the Commission must move quickly and decisively to correct past mistakes. We call on the Commission to heed the Parliament’s recommendations and harmonise rules across the continent to prevent a race-to-the-bottom in terms of standards.”

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