A Russian-Israeli businessman facing fraud charges to the tune of millions in the US, was granted the right to vote after filing a false declaration on the same day he bought a Maltese passport, Opposition MP Karol Aquilina told Parliament.
Speaking during the Budget estimates for the Office of the Prime Minister, the Nationalist MP outlined five cases, which he said, where evidence of the “fake due diligence”, which state agency Identity Malta was adopting when screening passport scheme applications.
“The cash-for-passports scheme is getting our country into trouble and is delivering one blow after another to Malta’s reputation,” he said.
Dr Aquilina noted that the consequences were the result of the government not heeding the advice of the Opposition, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
In his address, the PN MP said the most “scandalous” of these five cases was that of 61-year-old Russian businessman Anatoly Hurgin who is also an Israeli national.
Dr Aquilina noted the businessman who acquired a Maltese passport in 2015, owned various companies specialising in telephone hacking technology used by governments for espionage missions.
“In May 2016, Mr Hurgin had boasted that with a few millions and a single telephone number, he could spy on telephone calls and messages over any individual,” Dr Aquilina said.
The Opposition MP said that a few weeks ago, Mr Hurgin and his Russian business partner were arrested in the US and are now facing charges of fraud, trafficking and money laundering.
The arrest sparked an investigation by the Israeli Defence Ministry into breaches of international and Israeli security and export laws.
It transpires that at the same time when Mr Hurgin was in the process of buying a Maltese passport he was defrauding the shareholders of Cambridge Capital Acquisition Corporation $15 million, and caused losses of $60 million, he said.
Such a crime was committed by abusively merging his own company with another name also bearing the name of Cambridge Capital Acquisition, for which the company owned by the Israeli businessman pocketed $19 million.
Dr Aquilina backed his claims, by tabling a 41-page document containing the list of charges filed in the US.
“How is it possible that Identity Malta discovered none of this, when it has been insisting that it shares information with security services of other countries and makes use of the services of international firms specialising in due diligence,?” the MP questioned.
In Malta for less than 20 days
However, there was a much bigger scandal in the manner in which he was granted the right to vote by the Maltese authorities, he added.
“On the same day he was granted Maltese citizenship, the Labour government abusively and by stealth, gave him, his wife and their two children the right to vote,” he said.
Dr Aquilina said this was done on the strength of a “false declaration” he also tabled in Parliament. He noted that by law in order to be given such right, one had to reside in Malta for 180 days in the preceding 18-month period before the publication of the next electoral register.
“It transpires that Mr Hurgin had only been in Malta for less than 20 days,” he said, while giving a detailed breakdown of his various short stays during the period under review.
Had there been a serious government, this would have been enough to revoke his Maltese citizenship, he remarked.
Instead, Mr Hurgin was given a preferential treatment in view of the fact that his area of specialisation is espionage, Dr Aquilina said.
The Opposition MP also referred to four other foreign nationals – Boris Mints, Liu Zhongtian, Pavel Melnikov and Mustafa Abdel Wadood - who had been deemed fit to acquire a Maltese passport, only to face serious charges of money laundering and fraud and evasion abroad a few years later.
Scheme is serious - Farrugia
In her reaction, Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia said the government could not revoke the citizenship of any persons being charged abroad, until there is a guilty verdict. She said the citizenship scheme was a serious one, and that action would be taken once there is enough proof of wrongdoing.
Dr Farrugia noted that an inquiry was under way in connection with suspicions there were 19 persons had acquired Maltese citizenship through a marriage of convenience. Three of these cases, were the result of somebody acquiring a Maltese passport, she added.
She also accused Dr Aquilina of leaking documents from the electoral commission.
While noting the PN’s position on this scheme was consistently shifting from being in favour to against, she questioned how the government would make up for the loss of millions in revenue, if the sale of passports would be stopped.
“Will a PN government resort to tax hikes?” she questioned.
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