Five members of the Qatari royal family are among a list of more than 3,500 foreigners who in 2018 acquired Maltese citizenship either by naturalisation or through the controversial cash-for-passport scheme. 

Though the complete list is publicly accessible in the Government Gazette, the information provided is rather limited.

Apart from the fact that it is sorted by first name rather than surname, thus making it difficult to spot members of the same family, there is no distinction between applicants who became Maltese citizens through naturalisation and the wealthy individuals who bought a Maltese passport for €1.15 million.

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Yet, a search for the Al Thani surname of the Qatari Royal family yielded five results – Sheik Mohammed Ahmed J. Al Thani, his wife Hanadi and their children Jassim, Jude and Layana.

A former Qatari Minister of Economy and Commerce from December 2003 to March 2006, Sheik Al Thani also spent 17 years in the oil and gas industry mainly with Qatar Petroleum, RasGas and QatarGas.

In 2016, Sheik Al Thani had set up a Maltese-registered company –  Monifa Wings – of which he was listed as shareholder, director, legal representative and judicial representative. This company specialises in the provision of air transport services, aircraft leasing and the operation of chartered flights.

Sheika Hanadi is a prominent entrepreneur and is the CEO and founder of Al Waab City Real Estate.

Saudi precedent

Last year, Times of Malta had reported that in 2017, 62 members of the richest families in Saudi Arabia had acquired Maltese citizenship through the passport scheme.

These included the Al-Muhaidibs and the Al-Agils, who are not only two of the wealthiest business clans in the Saudi kingdom but are also named by Forbes as among the wealthiest families on the planet.

Launched in 2014, the scheme, known as Individual Investor Programme, enables foreign wealthy citizens to obtain a Maltese passport through a contribution of €650,000, the acquisition of a property worth at least €350,000 and investment of a minimum of €150,000 in shares, debentures and bonds for at least five years.

However, the scheme has been in the line of fire over lack of transparency in the names of the successful applicants and to a larger degree over the level of due diligence being applied to vet applicants.

In October, Opposition MP Karol Aquilina tabled a list of names in Parliament including that of a Russian-Israeli businessman facing fraud charges to the tune of millions in the US, who was granted the right to vote after filing a false declaration on the same day as buying a Maltese passport.

Dr Aquilina had denounced what he had described as the “fake due diligence” being adopted by State agency Identity Malta when screening passport applications, which he said was tarnishing the country’s reputation.

However, the government has refuted such claims, insisting that the IIP scheme is being operated in the most rigorous manner.

Labour leadership contender and deputy Prime Minister, Chris Fearne, recently pledged to scrap the scheme and replace it with a new one which would have the full endorsement of the European Commission.