[WATCH] Citizenship only for those with a genuine link to Malta, Karol Aquilina insists

Xtra on TVM | Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli extols financial benefits of the Individual Investor Programme, reiterates she has no problem with any investigation

Julia Farrugia Portelli and Karol Aquilina sparred over the IIP scheme (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Julia Farrugia Portelli and Karol Aquilina sparred over the IIP scheme (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

The Nationalist Party is vehemently opposed to the sale of citizenship, Karol Aquilina said as he called for an immediate end to the Individual Investor Programme. 

Aquilina said selling citizenship was “fundamentally wrong” and instead it should be bestowed on investors who have a genuine link to Malta.

The Nationalist Party MP was speaking on TVM’s Xtra, alongside his opposite number, Citizenship Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli.

The two often engaged in heated debate on the IIP scheme that was introduced after the Labour Party came to power in 2013, amid much controversy.

The scheme was recently thrust into the spotlight in a French journalistic sting operation that showed an IIP agent boasting about his political connections. The agent has denied wrongdoing and a review of all applications submitted by his firm is ongoing.

Farrugia Portelli defended the IIP, arguing that she would never wish to see Malta miss out on attracting people with a genuine interest in investing, opening factories, and providing employment within the country.

“I am not ready to miss out on genuine cases of people who wish to invest in our country,” she said.

Farrugia Portelli said income from the IIP scheme in the last six years, resulted in €1.3 billion. These have been used to help fund social housing, provide new equipment at Mater Dei Hospital, and renovate health centres, among other things, she added.

The parliamentary secretary stressed that in spite of Aquilina’s remonstrations, the PN has merely spoken of revising the IIP, as opposed to scrapping it altogether.

To this, Aquilina reiterated his opposition to the IIP, and stated that the Opposition’s belief is that citizenship should not be solely obtained through a financial investment, but should be bestowed on individuals who have demonstrated a genuine link with the country by moving to and living in Malta.

“If one does not have a link with our country, one does not deserve citizenship,” Aquilina insisted.

Aquilina also spoke of the damage the IIP scheme was having on Malta’s international reputation, especially in light of the recent journalistic sting, adding that there is still a lack of transparency as to who the individuals obtaining citizenship are.

Aquilina insisted that due diligence and screening of the applicants is often not properly carried out. 

In response, Farrugia Portelli pointed out that Malta is the only country which publishes an entire list of those people who have obtained citizenship.

Additionally, should there be any allegations of illegalities against the beneficiaries of the citizenship programme, there is all the legal framework in place for their citizenship to be rescinded should these be upheld, as has already happened in two separate cases.

Julia Farrugia Portelli: 'I welcome any investigation' (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Julia Farrugia Portelli: 'I welcome any investigation' (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Asked about her being mentioned in the French sting operation – the agent boasted of his wife’s connection with the parliamentary secretary -  Farrugia Portelli said she had “absolutely no problem with any investigation, irrespective of where it originates from”.

Farrugia Portelli added that she welcomed any investigation, which the relevant authorities feel may be necessary.

The parliamentary secretary noted that there are continuous and necessary amendments being made to the IIP, in order to ensure that this source of investment for the country can continue to improve.

The PN spokesperson reiterated that the concept of sale “had to disappear” from the citizenship scheme.

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