Fourteen European countries currently offer residence and citizenship to wealthy investors, but a joint investigation by Transparency International and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has singled out Malta for offering one of the most risky schemes for tax evaders and money launderers.
The reason given is that Malta has granted citizenship to three Russian businessmen, who were recently included on the so-called ‘Kremlin List’ – a list of 96 wealthy Russian who the United States identifies as being close to President Vladimir Putin. These are Arkady Volozh, founder of Russian search engine Yandex, Boris Mints, owner of major investment company O1 Group, and Alexander Natanovich Nesis, founder of private equity firm ICT Group.
Meanwhile, Cyprus was singled out for granting citizenship to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Bulgaria for allowing people to buy citizenship through bank loans without investing a cent in the country, and Hungary for granting permanent residence to thousands of non-EU, mostly Chinese, people.
The Maltese government has repeatedly insisted that stringent due diligence is conducted on every citizenship applicant and that several people have indeed been denied Maltese citizenship. However, Casey Kelso from Transparency International warned some EU member states are not even applying the same minimum checks on new citizens that banks are supposed to apply to their high net-worth customers. It is unclear whether she was referring to Malta in this regard.
“Citizenship and Residency-by-Investment schemes make the EU an easy target for the corrupt,” said Rachel Owens, from the charity Global Witness. “Weak vetting creates an open-door policy to criminals who are looking for a luxury lifestyle and a means to evade law enforcement and prosecution in their home country. This is not just about the risk of dodgy characters with dirty money hiding out in Austria, Cyprus, or Malta. It’s about the vulnerability of the whole EU. It’s about the risk of perpetuating criminality and corruption on our doorstep. The European Commission must act.”