A former European justice commissioner agreed with Malta’s passport sales programme and endorsed it in writing, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has insisted.

Dr Muscat said he would be “standing by” what Viviane Reding had “declared in writing” prior to the introduction of the Individual Investors Programme. “We stand by what the [European] Commission told us in writing and declared publicly when we reached an agreement with the Commission,” he said. 

Dr Muscat was reacting to comments by the present European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova who said last week the EU executive was looking at the scheme with concern, adding Brussels did not endorse any cash-for-passports programmes.

She cited a Commission report published last week warning member states that “golden visas and passports” could give rise to corruption and money laundering. 

Brussels commented in its report that Malta’s scheme had no actual mechanisms to ensure passport buyers in fact lived on the island or formed a genuine link in other ways.

When the scheme was first launched in 2014, it had initially encountered strong resistance by the Commission, even mulling infringement procedures against the island.

It had raised concerns that the island was putting all 28 EU member states at risk if due diligence failed to weed out proper criminals. Ms Reding had warned that the Maltese scheme breached EU and international law, which the government denied.

Eventually, the government agreed to ensure that those buying a Maltese passport established a genuine link with the country through a 12-month residence period prior to becoming a Maltese citizen.

At the time, Ms Reding had announced that the EU Commission had reached an agreement with Malta about its proposed citizenship programme. 

"Glad that thanks to support from European Parliament, constructive cooperation with the Maltese, we found a solution on the Maltese citizenship issue," she had tweeted following talks and an official statement on the matter. 

A spokesman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship, Julia Farrugia Portelli, said the scheme had the Commission’s backing and was yielding economic benefits.

“The IIP reaps economic benefits of investment migration, a sector that has significantly boosted employment across the EU and beyond. In its report, the EU acknowledges that the decision to naturalise citizens is the sovereign right of each member state. It is also clear from the report that Malta stands out as having a robust programme,” the spokesman said.

He added the report also recognised Malta’s commitment towards transparency, being one of few European countries that published the names of individuals who obtained citizenship.

“Malta’s programme has had a positive impact on the country by attracting a wealth of new talent and foreign direct investment from across the globe. During the first four years, the IIP generated an income of over €700 million, 70 per cent of which will be reinvested in infrastructural and social projects for the benefit of current and future generations,” he pointed out.

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