Malta will not stop selling passports to wealthy Russian investors as European Union sanctions do not apply to the country's citizenship-by-investment scheme, Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship Alex Muscat insisted on Monday.

“The concept of golden passports does not apply to Malta because investment tied to residency is completely different to golden passports," Muscat said, without elaborating on the distinction.

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Both the European Commission and the United States said this past weekend that they would be taking measures to stop golden passport sales to wealthy Russians, as part of a raft of sanctions against that country following its invasion of Ukraine. 

The sale of citizenship to non-EU nationals allows such investors to become EU citizens, obtaining freedom of movement and access to EU financial systems. 

Malta is among countries that sell citizenship to such investors. Prime Minister Robert Abela has so far avoided saying whether Malta will move to block Russian applicants to the country's citizenship-by-investment programme, despite growing pressure from Brussels to do so.

Speaking on Monday, Muscat defended Malta’s passports scheme.

“The due diligence that we do here is found nowhere in the world. We train other countries on how to carry out due diligence. We invest a lot in due diligence and we will continue to do so. We are being careful on every investment coming to Malta but let’s not have a blanket statement that all Russians are bad people,” Muscat said.

He said Malta’s scheme, which is linked to residency, will continue and that Malta is respecting all the sanctions which were issued by the EU.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has previously used the words “golden passport” to describe Malta’s citizenship scheme.

The wording in the European Commission statement on sanctions against Russia.The wording in the European Commission statement on sanctions against Russia.

The Commission’s statement on Saturday announcing sanctions said that it was committed to “taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship – so called golden passports – that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.”

Malta is currently locked in a legal battle with the Commission over the citizenship scheme, and Muscat said talks between the two sides were ongoing and could lead to new EU-wide regulations.

“It goes beyond the issue of Russia. They are two separate issues,” he said.  

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