Austria’s citizenship programme is very secretive and lacks transparency and therefore cannot be compared to Malta’s scheme which would attract the right kind of people, according to concessionaire Henley and Partners.
Chris Kalin, one of the firm’s partners and a legal expert in citizenship issues, said Austria’s was “not really a programme” as it is very discretionary, secretive and “not many people know about it”.
In an interview with Times of Malta, Mr Kalin said Austria has been granting citizenships on a case-by-case basis since 1986 when it made amendments to its Citizenship Act, whereby the government could grant citizenship on the basis of scientific, cultural, sportive or economic considerations.
The Maltese government has cited Austria in defence of its own Individual Investor Programme, which grants outright Maltese citizenship in return for a €650,000 fee, plus an investment of €150,000 in government bonds and the purchase of property worth at least €350,000. Austria has denied ever operating a citizenship-by-investment programme.
Mr Kalin said Austria does not even have minimum requirements, adding that it grants citizenship on a case-by-case basis.
He said Austria’s is not well known because it is not an open programme. It is not transparent and also very secretive since no names or the number of citizenships granted was published.
He said it is often “abused for political reasons” and that was why the government was trying to control what is happening there.
“But I can confirm that we have helped many people acquire citizenship in Austria through this facility. “We have had citizenship granted to people with no investment whatsoever but for other considerations and other cases where citizenship was granted with several million euros of investment.
“In recent years, this has become more and more difficult because some politicians have made some mistakes, so people have become very careful.”
On the other hand, he said, Malta’s programme was “open, state-of-the-art and transparent” and was being openly promoted.
“Austria cannot be compared to Malta at all because Malta’s programme has proper checks and balances so you really attract the right people who will bring more than a billion euro... actually much more.
“This programme will change things dramatically in this country so it is understandable from a political point of view that whoever is in Opposition would oppose it because they know that this is going to be very good for the country and will benefit whoever is in government,” he said.
According to Mr Kalin, his firm has attracted “huge interest” from people all over the world since it began to roll out Malta’s programme, including sports professionals, high-profile businessmen and even a world-famous pop star. However, he would not be drawn into mentioning any names.
“You asked me about Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve and I am not surprised his manager denied it. These kind of people would not want to be splashed all over the papers, especially in such a turbulent situation such as here in Malta. So I would be very surprised if any of them would actually confirm or deny their interest. What I can tell you, however, is that the interest has been huge and it is keeping us very busy,” he said.
Asked how he could convince people in Malta who were still sceptical on the citizenship sale programme, Mr Kalin said he did not blame people for being concerned about the principle of making Maltese citizenship available “for monetary considerations”, but believed there were equal arguments to support such a scheme.
“There are very good reasons to grant citizenship to people who are worthy to be granted citizenship. The measures in place here will ensure it attracts the right kind of people. They will be making a contribution and it will have a profound impact on the lives of people. I think these are enough grounds to reconsider.
“There are many benefits if the checks and balances are in place. We will ensure that the people we attract are the ones you would want to have here.
“Malta already grants about 5,000 citizenships per year. Of those, there may be many who deserve it but others who are not so ideal. But here we have 1,800 families who are ideal and who would be bringing wealth to this country,” Mr Kalin said.
The Nationalist Party said Mr Kalin’s comments so far confirmed that the concessionaire had become a political and commercial tool in the hands of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party. Their enthusiasm in defending all the government said revealed how the company did not care about irreversible damage caused through the cash-for-citizenship scheme.
I would be very surprised if any of the applicants would actually confirm or deny their interest
The company was only interested in the more than €200 million it would make, the Opposition said.
The extensive network Henley & Partners had set up in Malta over the past year, including Henley Estate Holdings, revealed how the company was just interested in making millions irrespective of the damage.
The Nationalist Party said the company did not comment about the fact that citizenship could be revoked according to the recent legal notice.
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