Ann Fenech’s law firm becomes IIP agent

Fenech & Fenech Advocates, the law firm of the president of the Nationalist Party's executive, Ann Fenech, has been granted a licence to act as an introducer of potential applicants for the Individual Investor Programme.

Ann Fenech with PN leader Simon Busuttil: like many other legal firms, hers is one of the participating 'agents' introducing potential clients to the much-maligned Individual Investor Programme
Ann Fenech with PN leader Simon Busuttil: like many other legal firms, hers is one of the participating 'agents' introducing potential clients to the much-maligned Individual Investor Programme

The president of the Nationalist Party’s executive, Ann Fenech, has dismissed suggestions that her law firm’s commercial interest in the Individual Investor Programme conflicts with her public declarations against the sale of Maltese citizenship.

Fenech, a top maritime legal expert, was a main critic of Joseph Muscat’s controversial plan to sell Maltese, and EU citizenship to the global rich for the price of €650,000.

Her legal firm Fenech & Fenech Advocates has now been granted a licence to act as an introducer of potential applicants for naturalisation.

Only last week on PBS’s Dissett, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that he expected his party’s MPs not to have a conflict of interest by having a professional interest in promoting the IIP to possible applicants. “I don’t give instructions on what someone does in their profession. But I expect our members not to have a conflict on the basis of their profession… I wouldn’t tolerate a clear conflict of interest,” Busuttil said.

Fenech, who is not an MP, had previously complained that citizenship was being sold “for a measly €650,000 and less for family members”, before the government added a combined property and financial investment element of €500,000.

“Fenech and Fenech Advocates is a large organisation specialising in a vast number of areas,” Fenech told MaltaToday this week when asked about her firm’s commercial interest in the sale of citizenship. The person handling the IIP account is another partner of Fenech and Fenech.

“Fenech and Fenech will, like other law firms, offer the services associated with the IIP as part of its corporate and financial services portfolio. My personal view on the structure [IIP], like those of organisations such as the Chamber of Advocates who expressed serious concerns on the matter, do not come into the equation at all, because the structure is now part of the law of Malta and as an established law firm we need to service the clientele that we have.

“As it happens, I myself am not involved at all because as everyone is aware my area of work is the maritime sector,” Fenech said.

Indeed Fenech has used her legal expertise to point out the risk of not having a maritime impact assessment for the berthing of an LNG tanker inside Marsaxlokk Bay to provide natural gas to a new power plant at Delimara.

But she also remains a critic of the IIP’s 12-month residence element, introduced in the latest incarnation of the IIP. “Personally, I don’t believe the duration of one year is good enough,” Fenech had said in a column she penned in the press. “It should not satisfy the [European] Commission and it will not satisfy us, the genuine Maltese citizens.”

The IIP demands that applicants are resident in Malta for 12 months before they are issued a certification of naturalisation. Since the IIP application process takes six months, applicants may only need a functional address for the duration of six months before formally applying.

Applicants for Maltese citizenship not only have to pay €650,000 and buy a €350,000 property acquisition and €150,000 in financial bonds: they also pay processing fees of at least €7,500, apart from fees payable to the legal firm that carries out due diligence clearance for them.

Becoming an IIP introducer

While Henley & Partners are still officially the concessionaire of the IIP, under changes to the citizenship programme other businesses and accredited persons can introduce potential applicants to the IIP.

Identity Malta can licence “accredited persons” who can then submit prospective IIP applications. Accredited persons must be employees or directors of authorized registered mandatory (ARM) companies, and have to pay a €1,500 application fee for their licence and an annual €1,500 renewal fee.

They must also provide a professional indemnity cover of €1 million, have a recognised professional qualification, and have access to online due diligence databases.

Individuals which during the first year of their accreditation present three applications that are successful, will be entitled to become accredited persons on a three-year basis and charged a reduced renewal fee of €1,000 per year.

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has now filed a new parliamentary motion calling for the repeal of the latest legal notice on the IIP, which demands that applicants be resident in Malta for 12 months.

The Opposition is claiming that the legal notice does not demand that the residence period be “effective” and that this opens the door to abuse. It also insists that it’s concessionaire Henley & Partners that it is running the IIP and not government agency Identity Malta.

Simon Busuttil said he will disclose all the names of naturalized citizens under the Individual Investor Programme through his position on the board regulating Identity Malta’s decisions.