Malta's cash-for-passports scheme was not about making a quick buck and the country's economy is not dependent on it, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said.
Speaking at a Global Citizenship Seminar being held in Dubai, Dr Muscat said the Individual Investment Programme was just one component in Malta's strong economy, as he brushed off criticism that Malta wanted to cash in from the scheme.
"We are not in the business of giving away to commoditizing citizenship," he said as he insisted the IIP programme was "not about cash or rich people and trying to get a slice out of them."
Instead, the Prime Minister told his UAE audience, Malta was keen to attract "the right people, with the right talent and having the right network." He said that most IIP applicants, rather than being "headline grabbers", fit the profile of "hardworking, self-made individuals who have a strong global network."
To receive a Maltese passport, IIP applicants must fork out €650,000 and provide a €150,000 investment in government stocks or bonds, as well as satisfy property requirements and pass Identity Malta due diligence procedures.
Officials figures published by the National Statistics Office earlier this week showed that the cash-for-passports programme was the single biggest contributor to Malta's budget surplus last year.
The €164 million raked in from the scheme that year turned what would have been a slight deficit into a €112 million surplus.
Dr Muscat's two-day visit to Dubai came in for criticism from the Nationalist Party, which yesterday said the Prime Minister was trying to give the impression that it was "business as usual" at a time when Malta faced a national tragedy, following the car bomb murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In his speech to the citizenship seminar, Dr Muscat made reference to the past week's events, saying national outrage was proof that Malta's "democratic credentials are second-to-none."
"I am proud of our people and their reactions because it shows that we all want justice to be done," the Prime Minister said.
During his visit to Dubai, Dr Muscat also met with the chairman of the Emirates National Oil Company to discuss possible areas of collaboration with Malta.
In a statement announcing the meeting, the Office of the Prime Minister said ENOC "believes that Malta is an ideal place to expand its business in the region."