Updated | €310 million raised in IIP scheme till end of September

Justice minister Owen Bonnici says that the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) had raised €310 million till the end of September • Jason Azzopardi calls for public inquiry into 'vote buying' by Identity Malta

Opposition claims gross irregularities by Identity Malta in processing of IIP applications
Opposition claims gross irregularities by Identity Malta in processing of IIP applications

More than €310 million had been raised by the end of September through the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) scheme, through which foreigners obtain Maltese citizenship against a financial contribution, according to Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.

Bonnici, who was speaking in parliament on Monday at the end of a discussion on the 2017 budget estimates for the ministry of justice, culture and local government, said that €310,300,500 had been raised through the scheme.

He said that another €44 million had been injected into the Maltese economy through the purchase of property by the IIP applicants.

“A further €24 million worth of property rent have also been invested so far,” he said.

Bonnici denied claims that the government was trying to hide how much money had been raised through the scheme.

“In fact, I myself have previously provided up-to-date figures twice this year, when asked in separate parliamentary questions,” he said.

He said he had announced in parliament that the scheme had raised €119,875,100 by January 2016 and €157,075,000 by 16 March.

As to issues raised by the opposition earlier in the debate, the minister said that the Civil Court in 2016 was deciding 15% more cases than new cases being filed, leading to a reduction of 10,000 cases since 2012, when the law courts could not keep up with the number of cases.

Bonnici praised the introduction of court attorneys, who were assisting judges in drafting their sentencing reports, so much so that 72% of cases in which an attorney report was submitted, had been decided and concluded.

He referred to criticism that the government had not assisted band clubs who risked being evicted under the Rent Law.

“How can the opposition say that, when in January 2014 we published a legal notice with the specific intention on providing assistance to these band clubs?” he said.

He criticised the attack by opposition MP Jason Azzopardi on the attorney general’s office and said that a country was only as strong as its institutions. He strongly denied that the ministry was reigning in the AG’s office and urged the opposition to be fair and accurate in its comments and criticism.

Bonnici also criticised opposition MP Clyde Puli for targeting individuals in his attack on the PBS, including the head of the TVM news portal. He denied any bias or censorship in the broadcaster's news coverage, saying he was amazed that Puli could accuse PBS of censoring the archbishop when it was the station that gave more airtime to Mons Scicluna than any other station.

"The opposition said TVM had become know as Super Two, but instead I think the opposition itself is a Super Zero," he claimed.

Bonnici said that the government was gradually introducing the practice of having the attorney general’s office lead prosecutions in the law courts – a process that was long overdue.

“This process cannot be introduced all across the law courts at once, but is being introduced one hall at a time, allowing us to analyse feedback provided by the lawyers themselves, and freeing up more police officers to carry out their main duties,” he said.

Local councils allaocated additional €60,000 each

Stefan Buontempo, parliamentary secretary for local government, said that whereas the previous administration had ruined local councils, the current government had raised the budget allocation for local councils for 2017 by nearly €4 million to €43 million.

“The previous administration had burdened local councils which huge debts, averaging €300,000 per council,” he said. “In this budget, each local council’s funds allocation is being raised by an average of €60,000.”

He said the government had introduced new schemes, and improved or strengthened others, that were allowing local councils to offer a better services to residents.

Buontempo said the PN had done nothing for the regional committees while in government, except to encourage the blatant issuing of driving tickets without control.

Jason Azzopardi said this document proved Identity Malta was acting illegally, as it promised applicants they would be eligible to vote once they were granted citizenship
Jason Azzopardi said this document proved Identity Malta was acting illegally, as it promised applicants they would be eligible to vote once they were granted citizenship

On the other hand, the recently set up LESA (Law Enforcement System Agency) was making sure that each ticket issued was justified, he said, while doing away the notion of ticket quotas.

Opposition MP calls for public inquiry into Identity Malta

The courts had revoked the right to vote of 42 foreigners who had obtained Maltese citizenship under the individual investor programme (IIP), after they found the persons had supplied fraudulent information in their applications, according to opposition spokesman Jason Azzopardi.

Azzopardi, who was speaking in parliament on the 2017 budget estimates for the ministry of justice, culture and local government, said that corrupt people at Identity Malta were carrying out illegalities regularly but the Attorney General had as yet not investigated the authority.

He called on justice minister Owen Bonnici to launch an immediate inquiry into Identity Malta and the illegalities being carried out, because there was no lack of evidence in this case.

Azzopardi said that all 42 applicants had applied for the right to vote on the very same day they were granted citizenship, but then were found not to have fulfilled the residence requirements – six months in the past 18 months.

And four applicants were found to have been awarded the right to vote even before they were granted citizenship, in yet another blatant breach of law by Identity Malta officials, he said.

Azzopardi said that Alexei Gureschov and Ekaterina Alubova, both living in the same apartment in Swieqi, had applied for the right to vote on 20 August 2015.

“And yet, they were only granted citizenship two days later,” he said. “So how and why were they allowed to apply for the vote, when they had not been granted citizenship?”

Azzopardi said that, if it were up to the ministry and the corrupt people at Identity Malta, these foreigners would have voted in the next election.

He said the Attorney General’s office had lost all its authority and autonomy under this government and had become nothing more than an appendix to the ministry of justice,

Identity Malta was telling applicants in a letter that once they are issued an identity card, they would have a right to vote, Azzopardi said.

“This is illegal, Identity Malta is breaking the law,” he said. “ And they know it, because in the same letter, they ask the applicants to sign a disclaimer disavowing Identity Malta of any liability.”

As to the monistry’s budget estimates, Azzopardi said that the government had failed to provide for families and elderly couples who were ending up on the street, because of a law that had been introduced by the Socialist government in 1979, when it had declared that people leaving in property under temporary emphytheusis were considered to be paying rent.

The courts were recently deciding to uphold request by the property owners to have the renters evicted.

And a number of band clubs were being evicted by court order on the request of the property owners, and the government had not – as yet – announced any intention to find a solution to the stalemate.

“The rights of property owners should be protected, but government should set up a fund to assist these volunteer clubs, as had been done in the case of sports clubs in the past,” he said.