Updated 12.56pm with PN statement
Malta has suspended Russians and Belarusians from its cash-for-passports scheme, in a dramatic change of stance.
In a statement on Wednesday, the government said that “recent developments” - a reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine - the necessary due diligence checks cannot be carried out effectively.
“Consequently, Community Malta Agency and Residency Malta Agency have suspended, until further notice, the processing of applications for the above-mentioned statuses from nationals of the Russian Federation and Belarus,” the government said.
The suspension applies to both Malta's citizenship-by-investment scheme as well as a residency through investment scheme, which must be renewed on a yearly basis.
Renewal applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and subject to fresh due diligence checks, the government said.
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.
Both the European Commission and the United States said this past weekend that they would be taking measures to stop such 'golden passport' sales to wealthy Russians, as part of a raft of sanctions against that country following its invasion of Ukraine.
Malta had resisted stopping its scheme, despite those calls, with Prime Minister Robert Abela saying due diligence procedures were thorough and prevented abuse and Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat insisting that Malta's scheme is "not a golden passport".
Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo also weighed in on Wednesday, saying none of the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the EU had received a Maltese passport and arguing that many Russian applicants to the Maltese scheme were seeking to escape Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime.
In its announcement on Wednesday, the government said no beneficiaries of any status related to the grant of citizenship or residence are on the EU Sanctions List,” they said.
“Similarly, no applications from individuals on the EU Sanctions List are currently in process," it said.
The Nationalist Party was among those calling for the government to suspend passport sales to wealthy Russian applicants, and in a statement following the government announcement it said it had been proven right.
"Robert Abela did this out of convenience, not conviction," the party said. "He should have done this well before others told him what to do."
The PN said it would be pushing for any Russian applicants who bought citizenship in recent months to face additional checks.