A Henley & Partners representative has admitted to advising passport buyers to “do the bare minimum” when it comes to satisfying the criteria for the scheme.
In an undercover video shot by The Guardian, Henley & Partners’ Dominic Volek explained how the one-year residency requirement does not mean passport applicants must live in Malta for the entire year.
“But in order to establish genuine links to the country, the government does want any adult applicants to spend at least three weeks in Malta,” Volek said.
He explained this three-week stay can be done in one go, when the passport buyer travels to Malta to give biometric data for the residency application.
“Some clients stay there for three weeks then come back later to collect their passport.
“To the clients, we say do the bare minimum. We say the minimum because even under the original program, there is no regulation that actually states how much time [should be spent in Malta],” Volek continued.
The Guardian sting comes as part of the Passport Papers, a collaborative investigation into leaked Henley & Partners documents coordinated by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation and funded by the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund. Times of Malta is one of the investigation's media partners.
Last year, the government announced a revamp to Malta's passport scheme, following renewed pressure by the EU to ditch it.
According to the government, the new scheme will place more emphasis on passport applicants building links with the community.
The agency running the scheme was even renamed the Community Malta Agency. The government had also announced that Henley & Partners will no longer be the scheme’s concessionaires, but will continue to act as one of its agents.
Volek told undercover reporters that a lot of Henley’s partners end up staying in hotels, “because they do not want to clean up and make meals”.
As part of the scheme’s mandatory regulations, passport buyers are obliged to either rent or buy a property.
Henley & Partners respond to the undercover sting
In a statement to The Guardian, Henley & Partners said:
“Nothing contained in Dominic Volek’s comments below is unethical, procedurally inaccurate, or contrary to the laws and regulations of Malta. Any insinuation to the contrary would be unjustifiable and damaging.
“Strikingly, though, it is also not the full picture that Mr Volek communicated to your undercover reporter or the process described. Amongst other things, Mr Volek crucially advised that several other links must be established by the client, quite separately to the residence requirements (which are not clearly defined).
Reducing the “genuine links” question to the residence issue will knowingly fail to address the matter accurately and in a balanced way, as is your journalistic responsibility at common law and per paragraph 1 of The Editors’ Code of Practice and Rule 2 of the NUJ Code of Conduct.
“There is no legal basis in EU law to determine what “links” a prospective applicant for citizenship must establish to be considered for citizenship in any member state of the EU; as a matter of EU law, this is entirely up to the individual EU member state. This fact must be reflected in your reporting, as its omission may suggest that EU rules have been breached, which would be factually incorrect (as there are no such rules) and risk irreversible commercial and financial damage to Henley & Partners.
“The advice given by Henley & Partners is accurate and lawful, carefully tailored to clients by the requirements of each individual jurisdiction we operate in.”