‘Henley to earn €240,000 from each passport application’ - Jason Azzopardi

Home Affairs minister claims Opposition is ‘envious’ of government’s plans to sell citizenship to wealthy foreigners for €650,000.

Henley & Partners, the company which will handle the applications of wealthy foreigners interested in obtaining a Maltese passport against a payment of €650,000  is set to earn up to €240,000 from each application, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said tonight.

Divesting himself from Parliamentary privilege, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi today said that the concessionaire Henley & Partners, chosen by the government as the Individual Investor Programme's sole promoter, would pocket a €140,000 commission from government for every approved application apart from a further  €100,000 from the applicants themselves.

"We are witnessing to the privatisation of Maltese citizenship by a government who knows the price to everything and the value of nothing," Azzopardi said.

He also said that Malta was the only country which was giving the concessionaire exclusivity of the scheme which he said had a conflict since it was the company that also provides due diligence of the applicants it recommends to the home affairs ministry.

"If the government wants to attract wealthy investors it should introduce a link to residence or investment as other countries have done," Azzopardi said, pointing out that  €650,000 is small change for truly wealthy persons.

Azzopardi stressed that the Opposition was in favour of the granting of citizenship under a proper programme linked to long-term investment but was against the sale of citizenship against the payment of a donation.

He accused the government of turning Malta into a "Caribbean in the Mediterranean" by plagiarising the laws of Caribbean tax havens such as St Kitts, Antigua and Granada which are often involved in international money laundering scandals.

Earlier, home Affairs minister Manuel Mallia accused the Opposition of resorting to scaremongering tactics over the government's proposed programme scheme which will allow foreigners to buy a Maltese passport for  €650,000.

Mallia also accuse the Opposition of inconsistency, claiming that Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi had admitted that the PN was "not against the concept." However, this claim led to the Opposition MP to call for a point of order, in which he asked the minister to be "correct" and admit that during the meeting held in June, no mention of the citizenship would be granted against a donation.

In recent weeks, the Nationalist Party has insisted that it did not oppose the concept, however it would only vote in favour of the scheme if this is directly linked to long-term investment by applicants which would create jobs and foster economic growth.

The PN has hit out at the lack of mandatory investment in the proposed scheme, which could see foreign millionaires pay €650,000 for a passport, without residing permanently in Malta. The Opposition has also expressed its concerns over the quality of persons who would be interested in applying for the scheme, which could put Malta's reputation as a financial services centre at stake.

Opening the Parliamentary debate on the proposed law, Mallia went as far as claiming that Opposition MPs had privately admitted that they were in favour of the programme.  Highlighting the Opposition's public disagreement with the proposed Individual Investment Programme, Mallia asked "Does the Opposition agree or does it disagree with the programme?"

He put down the PN's opposition to "envy," adding  "the opposition is against everyone and against every initiative taken by the government." He also brushed aside suggestions to link the programme to long-term investment, by insisting that the amended law would stay as it is while the possibility of linking the programme to direct investment  "could be studied."

"Other countries have already introduced such programmes and we could not miss this opportunity through which foreign persons can apply for Maltese citizenship. Then they could also live here and they could also invest here," Mallia said, underlining the mobility advantage the scheme could offer to foreigners. Maltese citizens are allowed to visit over 130 countries without needing a Visa.

Security is an another advantage, Mallia said, pointing out that wealthy persons who for some reason feel threatened in their country could seek security in Malta, while others would be attracted to apply for a Maltese passport because of tax advantages.

He added that the government intended to attract wealthy individuals who can contribute to economic growth and the IIP's multiplier effect would generate a substantial source of income for years to come.  

"Malta will not only benefit by attracting a number of wealthy individuals but the Maltese people will enjoy a better quality of life thanks to the investment of funds in infrastructure projects," Mallia said without going into detail on how the funds will be used by the government.  

Rebutting criticism that the company chosen to identify and screen applicants, Henley and Partners,  would have a conflict of interest, Mallia underlined the fact that the final decision would be made by the government.

Moreover, Mallia insisted that Malta's reputation would not be tarnished, but to the contrary the wealth attracted will boost the financial services sector.

In reply, Azzopardi denied ever expressing himself in favour of any sale of citizenship and explained that when he first discussed the scheme with the minister in early June, they were very embryonic and only referred to an investment programme.

He added that after months of silence on the minister's behalf, the Opposition first learnt of the scheme's details from sources outside the government and a meeting was only held on the Opposition's insistence.

Following Azzopardi's claim that the government had sent the draft legal notice by email just one day before publishing it, parliamentary secretary for justice Owen Bonnici interjected and said that hours after sending the email to PN whip David Agius and Azzopardi, the draft version was published on a local webpage.

Jason Azzopardi also explained that during the meeting held with the government, a consultant for said that although the government had been 'strongly advised' to peg the programme with investment, but the government was 'in a rush.'

"This means that applicants may be granted citizenship without ever setting foot in Malta and without ever making any investment here, as long as a €650,000 donation is made."

Azzopardi added that despite the law was only a draft, Henley & Partners was already advertising the scheme on its website, saying the key to success was "securing relationships with key partners, such as government officials".

He added that the concessionaire was already making presentations in Russian which said that holding a Maltese passport meant visa-free travel to the USA, which could pose a threat to the visa waiver programme between Malta and the US.

Citing an email in his possession, Azzopardi said that Henley was "shamefully" promising Russian clients a fast track approval against additional payment of 50% of its usual fee. 

It is a good idea.But if the GOV is paying 140000 commission,we are selling citizenship for 500000 Euros.
Citizenship should never be sold. It is earned either through birthright or residence over a number of years. Thats it. Inward investment should not rely on citizenship. Even dual citizenship which mirrors the flag of convenience on the high seas should be scrapped. Citizenship is about responsibility and obligations to onc's country, be it that of birth or adoption. Shame on Malta
Can the most honorable Jason Azzopardi explain to me in what way can his former partner and deputy leader Tonio Borg's award of permanent residence (citizenship) to the very wealthy ALIYEV be explained except for selling citizenship to him. The papers had referred to bribes being offered to intermediaries in the process, and had also stated that ALIYEV had an international arrest warrant on his head. Please Jason explain what is so different between the ALIYEV case with what the present Government is doing, except of course that in the new cases, there should not be international arrest warrants involved. Is it a case of two weights and two measures and what is good for the goose (PN) is not good for the gander (PL) - this situation is repeating itself far too often now.