Economy Minister Silvio Schembri defended Malta's passport scheme's role in helping to fund COVID-19 relief measures, in the government's first reaction to the passport papers revelations.

The investigation revealed how wealthy applicants were able to sidestep rules on residency requirements and an EU-imposed requirement for passport buyers to have a 'genuine link' with Malta. 

Schembri defended the scheme on Thursday, arguing that “most of the proceeds went into a fund which was to be used only when needed”.

He said that if the country did not have “a substantial amount of money saved up in this fund”, Malta would not have been able to sustain economic measures such as the wage supplements scheme.

“We would have had to resort to financing coming in from other activities, which would have placed the country in a position in which we would have to hold back from certain investments we’ve made,” he said.

This, Schembri argued, was not a dependence on passport sales, adding that “if it weren’t for the pandemic, we would have kept on going on with our business and we wouldn’t even have needed to resort to the money made from passport sales”.

He also referred to finance minister Clyde Caruana’s recent commitment to not increasing taxes in Malta, arguing that the reserve fund from passport sales allowed the government to sustain the pandemic without “putting extra pressure” on the Maltese population.

”We don’t depend on passport sales, we depend on real economic activity,” the minister concluded.

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