Hundreds of millionaires from cities around the world have applied for Maltese passports that would allow them to reside anywhere in the European Union, including Great Britain.
Malta’s Foreign Minister Maltese George Vella finally admitted in a reply to an MP’s question that his embassies have received 277 queries about the controversial scheme being run by a UK company where tycoons can pay €1.15m per passport. He said most of the applications were sent to missions in Dubai, Istanbul, Moscow, Paris and Rome.
The Independent first revealed details of the "citizenship for sale" program last month. Henley & Partners, the private British company registered in Jersey which specialises in “citizenship solutions”, stands to make at least €60m (£49m) from its role as the designer and principal contractor for the project.
Following “tremendous pressure” from the European Commission after the story was published, new restrictions were added with Brussels declaring applicants would have to be registered as resident in Malta for a year first. EU Justice commissioner Viviane Reding’s lawyers had prepared potential infringement proceedings against Malta based on the EU treaty and on case law in the EU court in Luxembourg and the International Court of Justice in the The Hague.
It was thought the residency obligation would make the scheme less appealing to foreign millionaires who would now have to live on the tiny Mediterranean island before gaining EU rights. But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat later qualified the terms. He said: “It doesn’t mean that the individual has to spend 365 days [in Malta]. But it also doesn’t mean that the applicant can choose not to set foot in Malta.”
The Government also responded to the restrictions by saying it might raise the cap in the numbers of passports they are willing to sell – currently 1,800 – which would make Henley & Partners even more profit.
The firm has an exclusive 10-year deal with the Maltese Government and receives a commission of four per cent of the investment made by each main applicant – a €650,000 payment to a new economic development fund and a €150,000 investment in government bonds.
Applicants must also spend at least €350,000 on a property to be kept for at least five years. A further contribution of €25,000 is payable for the spouse and young children of the applicant, rising to €50,000 for adult children and the grandparents of each spouse. As well as receiving its commission, H&P will charge client fees of €70,000 per main applicant, plus an additional €10,000 to €15,000 per spouse or dependant.
If all the 277 applications received - not including spouses and dependents – are successful, it would mean revenues of more than €180 million, of which a minimum of around €1.5 million would be paid to Henley & Partners who conduct the due diligence for prospective applicants. Malta has claimed it stood to reap a billion in euros within the next five years through the sale of citizenships.
The Minister for Home Affairs, Manuel Mallia, was also asked the same question regarding number of applicants and in his reply to Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli, Dr Mallia said that the scheme’s regulator, Identity Malta, would be handing a report of its operations to the government when the time is “opportune”.
The passport offer has already prompted queries from Chinese, Libyan, Russian and Saudi citizens, as well as Italians keen to take advantage of Malta’s lower income tax. A former Formula One world champion and a Chinese billionaire are also thought to be among the applicants.
A spokesman for Henley & Partners said that it has built “Chinese walls” to ensure that its sales executives have no contact with staff in charge of producing a “risk-weighting assessment” on each client.
Hugh Morshead, the chairman of H&P, denied that the company stood to make excessive profits out of the scheme. He said: “We are talking about millions of pounds of upfront investment and years of experience and top-level expertise that is put into this scheme.