Former Attorney General Peter Grech had contacted a Dutch law professor who specialises in citizenship law to seek advice on how Malta’s cash-for-passports scheme could be amended to fend off EU criticism.
Dimitry Kochenov’s link to Malta’s Individual Investor Programme was revealed by a Dutch documentary titled Passport Trade: Wealthy Foreigners Buy Citizenship In Malta, which appeared on Dutch television in June.
The documentary, which aired on public television, sparked a debate about the sale of passports in the EU and in Malta particularly. The Dutch professor’s role in the passport trade resulted in him being reprimanded by the University of Groningen for failing to declare his role as an advisor to the Maltese government, however, the university has controversially remained silent about the matter.
A follow-up to the 2020 documentary, published over the weekend, features a clip of Kochenov speaking at what appears to be a citizenship-by-investment summit held in Malta, in which he describes how he was contacted by former Attorney General Peter Grech for advice about Malta’s programme.
“And that’s when I got a phone call from the Attorney General of Malta who asked me, ‘what do they want from us? You have studied this’,” Kochenov tells the audience.
“And my answer was, Mr Grech I have no clue, because having read the law and having looked at the programme I can only say that everything is tip-top, the country is performing wonderfully and the programme is much better than a majority of the others I’ve studied, so there is actually no problem with your programme.”
The documentary focuses on the role of Henley and Partners – the former concessionaires of Malta’s scheme – in “legitimising” the passport sale industry and doesn’t paint the most flattering picture of Malta.
The documentary, which runs at just under 18 minutes, also notes that former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri has been charged in court, in part over the allegation that he received kickbacks from the sale of three passports to Russian nationals from former Nexia BT partner Brian Tonna.
Schembri continues to deny the allegation, with a magisterial inquiry unable to find prima facie evidence of kickbacks. The inquiring magistrate did however note that she did not find Schembri and Tonna’s testimony credible.
Malta launched its citizenship-by-investment scheme in 2013, allowing wealthy individuals to purchase citizenship of an EU member state for roughly €650,000. The scheme has since been relaunched after reaching the 1,800 cap.
The programme has been the focus of criticism from a number of EU member states, as well as the commission, over fears that it could be used by criminals and foreign spies to infiltrate and launder money through European institutions.
The European Commission last year notified Malta that it had opened up infringement proceedings over the programme, which it says goes against European values.
Malta maintains that there is no legal basis to the Commission’s threat, given that matters relating to citizenship are the prerogative of the individual member state and not the Commission.
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