Forget the talent, passport buyers won’t move to Malta, says IIP head

In comments to Bloomberg Business, the head of Malta's passport sale scheme expressed doubt that those buying citizenship would eventually move to Malta

The head of Malta’s passport sale scheme, Jonathan Cardona, has little hopes that the global rich buying Maltese citizenship are going to move to Malta.

In comments to Bloomberg Business, Cardona – the chief executive of the Individual Investment Programme – was portrayed as being unable to explain what the 12-month residence period for IIP applicants meant in real terms.

“It doesn’t say physical residency,” Cardona said. “We expect an individual to be in Malta for a number of days; we don’t go into the specific number. If you’re asking me, are these people going to move here entirely, I would say, ‘Listen, let’s not fool ourselves’.”

The statement puts paid to the pleadings of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat when he pitches the IIP to conferences organised by Henley & Partners: “Malta wants your talent, not your money. Your networks, not your accounts,” he told an audience in New York last year.

With doubts over what the IIP’s 12-month residency exactly implies, it is clear that not even Cardona believes the rich who want a Maltese passport – which guarantees free movement in the EU and visa-free travel to the USA – could be even moving here.

Cardona himself was unclear when he spoke to MaltaToday last year about the 12-month residency requirement, forced into Malta’s IIP after beastly comments by MEPs criticising the sale of passports.

The residence status that is meant to create a “genuine link” between the country and applicants requires at least two visits to Malta rather than an effective, physical 365-day stay.

Cardona had told this newspaper that applicants, who at law must be resident in Malta for 12 months prior to being issued with a certificate of naturalisation, do not need to be physically present on the island throughout the entire period.  “It doesn’t mean the person has to be present in Malta for 365 days, even due to the principle of free movement,” he said, adding that the applicant must make at the very least two visits to Malta. 

That is easily arranged: one visit to Identity Malta’s offices to pay their €650,000 contribution to the National Development and Social Fund, and another visit to take their oath of allegiance to become Maltese and EU citizens. In between, one of the 100 accredited agents for the IIP will purchase a €350,000 property or secure a €16,000 annual property rental, and the acquisition of €150,000 in financial bonds.

The onus of proving residency comes in many forms, from having a functional residence, or even being a member of social clubs, philanthropic initiatives, and engaging with professional bodies. So for example, enrolling a family doctor, membership with a yacht club, or participating in philanthropic activities, can bolster candidates’ portfolios at proving a genuine link with the island.

As authors and concessionares of the IIP, Henley & Partners are first among equals of some 100 agents now selling Maltese passports, claiming commissions of some €70,000. They include Malta’s top legal firms, some of whose partners are PN politicians – such as Ann Fenech and Stefano Mallia – who harshly criticised the government’s handling of the passport sale.

Henley gets 4% on the €650,000 paid by each applicant, and contractually binds Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his ministers to address Henley conferences around the world to pitch the IIP.

The creator of the IIP, Swiss lawyer Christian Kalin, told Bloomberg that he doesn’t think much of the Opposition’s argument that Malta’s citizenship is being prostituted. “This is the key point. The Opposition realises that this programme is going to keep them out of power for a long time. It’s going to bring in a lot of money, and whoever is in office is going to benefit.”