A load of bull: passport agent peddled ‘insensible sales promo’ says IIP regulator

Lawyer caught out in French TV sting advanced empty claims says IIP regulator who finds no evidence of collusion with politicians

Claims by a representative of Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors to undercover French journalists that he enjoyed privileged access to politicians have been shot down in an investigation by the regulator. The report was published by Julia Farrugia Portelli.
Claims by a representative of Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors to undercover French journalists that he enjoyed privileged access to politicians have been shot down in an investigation by the regulator. The report was published by Julia Farrugia Portelli.

Updated at 4.45pm with PN statement

A passport agent’s boastful claims that he enjoyed privileged access to the authorities have been debunked in an investigation carried out by the IIP regulator.

The regulator found that claims made by a lawyer from Chetcuti Cauchi Agency that he could obtain citizenship for people with a criminal record were unfounded.

The investigation had been ordered after Chetcuti Cauchi officials were secretly filmed in a French TV sting, claiming they had a 100% success rate and enjoyed close connections to politicians. The journalists were posing as representatives of a potential client.

The lawyer had claimed that officials could close an eye for IIP applicants with a criminal record.

Chetcuti Cauchi’s IIP licences had been suspended in the aftermath of the French TV documentary, and the regulator was asked to vet all applications, past and present, submitted by the firm.

The report was passed on to the Office of the Prime Minister and published by Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli this afternoon.

“An analysis of these observations has not uncovered any red flags which support, in all or in part, the purported allegations. No records were found of applicants having a criminal record or of applications being presented for the minister’s consideration more than once. There was no indication of collusion between the agent and the responsible minister, or that the former at any point since the start of the programme had ever received preferential treatment,” the regulator said.

READ ALSO: Passport agents and Paceville boss boast of ministerial friendships in French TV reveal

Chetcuti Cauchi’s boastful claim that the firm had a 100% success rate was also debunked with the investigation finding that the company had an 84% success rate. A comparative analysis with other big firms acting as passport agents, showed there were others with higher success rates.

In a scathing comment on the claims by Chetcuti Cauchi, the regulator said it can only conclude that the agent could be charged with disseminating “totally misleading information”.

The regulator described this as “insensible sales promotion” which “unduly put in very bad light” the Individual Investor Programme in Malta and abroad.

READ ALSO: Lawyer who boasted of political connections during IIP TV sting denies wrongdoing

The regulator also concluded that the Prime Minister, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Farrugia Portelli, “were grossly slandered” by the claims of familiarity made by Chetcuti Cauchi.

All three Cabinet members had denied affording Chetcuti Cauchi any advantages, insisting that claims made during the broadcast were either untrue, or harked back to childhood friendships.

In a statement this afternoon, Farrugia Portelli said that she ordered an analysis of the recommendations put forward in the report.

Regulator recommendations

The regulator reiterated recommendations made in his annual reports for an ICT system to be introduced that would cut out the manual processes and make it easier to track application processes.

He also recommended a change in the law that gives the minister power to overrule a refusal if an applicant has a criminal record. The regulator said the investigation found that this clause in the law was never invoked, insisting it should be removed because it “serves only for detractors of the programme to continue pushing forward the idea that criminals are ‘buying Maltese passports’”.

The regulator has also suggested that the IIP Agency accepts only those applications where the more economically wealthy partner is listed as the main applicant.

“Although, in theory, it is irrelevant as to who should be the main applicant since rigorous due diligence checks are carried out on the applicants nonetheless, the fact that sometimes a partner of limited economic means should enter into a number of commitments… makes a mockery of the whole process,” the regulator said.

Read the full report below:

The head of the IIP agency, Jonathan Cardona would not comment when contacted about the conclusions of the investigation.

It remains unclear whether the suspension of Chetcuti Cauchi’s licences will be lifted.

A separate magisterial inquiry into the allegations requested by NGO Repubblika is ongoing and the police are investigating the firm.

READ ALSO: Magistrate asks Advocates’ chamber to investigate Chetcuti Cauchi on ethics breach

PN calls for passport programme suspension

The Nationalist Party has reiterated its call for the IIP to be suspended, insisting that the regulator's investigation showed how the citizenship programme was harming Malta's image abroad.

PN spokesperson Karol Aquilina said the regulator's investigation did not contradict the TV documentary's exposure of a passport agent who was caught boasting of his links and influence on the Prime Minister and other ministers. Aquilina said this amounted to trading in influence and was the subject of a criminal inquiry ordered recently by Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo.

Aquilina said the report does not deny the existence of a number of cases involving individuals who purchased Maltese citizenship and are the subject of criminal investigations abroad on money laundering.

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