Update 2 - Residence permits will be given to foreign investors against an investment of €250,000, Economic Growth Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera said today.

The scheme was launched in the afternoon and was followed by exchanges between the government and the PN after the government said that a statement issued by the PN showed divisions with Mario de Marco, with whom the scheme was discussed. The PN strongly denied the claim.

Addressing a press conference, Dr Herrera said a legal notice has been published setting out the new residence programme regulations. These would allow third country nationals to gain residence permits against a gradual investment in interest-free government bonds amounting to quarter of a million Euros. 

Investors would also have to invest in property worth up to €320,0000, or €270,000 in the south of the island or Gozo. Investors will also have the option to rent a property worth up to €12,000 a year. The localities defined as being in the south are Birzebbugia, Cospicua, Fgura, Għaxaq, Gudja, Kalkara, Luqa, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, Mqabba, Paola, Qrendi, Safi, Santa, Luċija, Senglea, Siġġiewi, Tarxien, Vittoriosa, Xgħajra, Żabbar, Żejtun, and Żurrieq.

Asked if this was a 'residence for sale' scheme, Dr Herrera described the process as offering "residence privileges tied to responsibilities".

"Persons given residence permits will have to meet strict criteria and will have to conduct themselves to a strict code of conduct. We won't allow criminals to remain residents for instance," he said. He said the residence permit will remain in place for as long as the investors maintain their investment.

Asked about the recent residency scandal which saw several hundred permits given out fraudulently, Dr Herrera said this was not his responsibility. He added that he had confidence in the police and the judicial system to weed out any criminal activity.

Identity Malta head Joe Vella Bonnici was not present for the press conference.

Asked what action would be taken to ensure against the recent scandal repeating itself, Dr Herrera said the "security" had virtually been doubled.

Permits, he explained, would only be given out after due diligence was carried out by certified professionals, lawyers, legal procurators and management professionals. This would then be crossed checked by the authorities. Professionals who falsified any applications would have their warrants removed and face legal action.

The scheme also has a Dependency clause which allows spouses, children and other relatives (including parents and grandparents) who may be financially dependent on the applicant to also benefit from residency.

However, Dr Herrera said that once these are no longer reliant on he applicant they would have to enter into a fresh programme to be given their own permit.

Asked how much the government expected to make from the programme, Dr Herrera pointed to countries such as Portugal which made some €1.25 billion from a similar scheme set up in 2012.

Dr Herrera closed the press conference by thanking Opposition deputy leader Mario de Marco who discussed this with the government on behalf of the Opposition.

OPPOSITION: THIS IS NO SOLUTION TO CORRUPTION

The PN in a reaction to the new scheme, said it would not solve institutional corruption.

PN deputy leader for party affairs Beppe Fenech Adami said the new scheme would not remedy the institutional corruption that emerged recently with the arraignment of former Labour treasurer Joe Sammut.

What the government needed to do first was to fix what had already been eroded by acting against those responsible. It needed against those involved in the web which Mr Sammut had woven in order to issue visas and residence permits to hundreds of people. The people who received such visas and permits also needed to be identified and permits issued irregularly should be withdrawn.

"It makes no sense for the government to announce a new visas and permits scheme when the institutions are still being eroded by the same people who allowed Joe Sammut to do whatever he liked," Dr Fenech said.

He also pointed out that the granting of visas and residence permits has security implications.  

In a reaction, Dr Herrera's secretariat said the PN was either confused or divided.

Over the past weeks the government held several consultation meetings with Dr de Marco about this programme.

The opposition had made a number of proposals, some of which were accepted and the opposition indicated it had agreed, 

Now Dr Fenech Adami was speaking in a way which contrasted with that of his colleague. So either Dr Fenech Adami was against what had been agreed by his colleague, or the opposition was confused.

In a reaction, Dr de Marco and Dr Fenech Adami in a joint statement said that in the statement by the latter it was never said that the PN was against the new programme, but only that corruption could not be addressed by it.

Corruption had to be addressed directly. Dr Muscat and his government in an effort to defend institutional corruption were falsely claiming that the PN was not agreeing within itself. This was completely false.

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