Irina Abramovich, the former wife of Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea Football Club was due to be given red carpet treatment in Malta when she planned to visit in 2014 to obtain her Maltese citizenship.

This trip was called off at the last minute when she asked for more time to think the process.  

Henley & Partners, the concessionaires of the golden passport scheme for rich people, devised a plan for the wealthy woman, who also applied for citizenship for her mother and her two teenage children, to bypass the Malta International Airport’s arrivals lounge and instead be channeled through the VIP ministerial lounge upon her arrival in Malta. 

The planned red-carpet treatment emerged from an investigation carried out by Times of Malta as part of the Passport Papers project pertaining to the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund and coordinated by the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation.

Documentation and a stash of correspondence between Abramovich’s agents and Henley and Partners in Jersey and the concessionaire’s local office show the request for special treatment for their wealthy client upon her arrival in Malta on a private jet.

According to the plan, she was to be escorted out of the ministerial lounge and into a waiting high-class taxi that would drive them to the Le Méridien Hotel in St Julian’s where three rooms had been booked. Her mother, who was meant to be arriving on a different flight via a commercial company was to be afforded the same treatment. 

A 'Rolls-Royce' service

A thread of emails exchanged between the manager of Henley & Partners in Jersey and Malta IIP agency, the concessionaire detailed how the important client was arriving in Malta one evening in September 2014. The manager at the firm promised the “highest of confidentiality” and a “Rolls-Royce” service.

“Is it possible to contact the Office of the PM, to confirm these flight details, to facilitate the ministerial entrance?” the manager asked Malta’s IIP office along with a request to book a private car for the transfers.

The Henley manager also informed the IIP agency that it had been their intention to set up a meeting with a government minister for their client upon the request from Abramovich’s executive secretary. He specified that Joe Vella Bonnici, at the time executive chairman at Identity Malta and Former Identity Malta CEO Jonathan Cardona both confirmed that they would be meeting the high net worth client. 

“Do you have any suggestions? Is the PM available next week, or would that not be appropriate at this stage? You[r] recommendation would be appreciated,” the Jersey Henley manager wrote. 

'Meet with Christopher Cardona'

In a subsequent email, he was informed that then prime minister Joseph Muscat was not available to meet since he would be in New York at the time but “Dr Christopher Cardona, Minister for the Economy, has extended a dinner invitation”. 

The cache of documents from Henley & Partners reveals how many of the wealthier passport buyers could count on a chat with Muscat during the course of their passport application process.  

Abramovich, former wife or Roman Abramovich, was one of 851 wealthy Russians to seek Maltese citizenship under a controversial programme facilitated by Henley & Partners, according to a leak of the firm’s data shared with Times of Malta and other media partners as part of the Passport Papers project pertaining to the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund and coordinated by the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation. 

A typical itinerary of an Individual Investor Programme client would often see applicants fly in and out of Malta within the space of a couple of days, with the express purpose of picking up their residency card, opening a bank account, signing documents and other formalities that required their physical presence on the island.  

In a document Abramovic signed in June 2014 declared “economic self-sufficiency”, she declared that she planned to stay in Malta for “at least 12 months”. 

The one-year residency period prior to passport applicants becoming Maltese citizens was introduced in 2014 to appease the European Commission following grave concern about the scheme across Europe.  

The scheme’s regulator had flagged at the time how the residency requirement remained a “grey” area, with no specific metric upon which residency is based.

Abramovich also signed a separate document giving Henley and Partners power of attorney to sign any documentation, contracts or agreements on her behalf. The cache of documentation found in the leak shows a lease agreement signed by Abramovich for the lease of a seafront apartment in Tower Road, Sliema. 

Last-minute cancellation

But just five days prior to her planned arrival in Malta, Abramovic's secretary sent an email to Henley's manager informing him about the trip's cancellation.

"This email is to inform you that this trip has been cancelled due to the fact that Mrs A needs a longer time to think about [the] Malta option," the secretary wrote.  

Henley continued to chase the applicant for the next year, the documents show. In January 2016, the manager sent an email to the IIP Malta office saying he had tried contacting the secretary and the attorney but had received no reply: "I think that we should consider the possibility that this application will not proceed," he wrote. 

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