Rogue state 'spy' used Maltese passport scheme to sneak into Europe

Malta alerted to the matter by US authorities

Sun, Sep 13th 2020, 06:41 Last updated on 13/9/20

A rogue foreign state is believed to have used Malta’s passport scheme to sneak at least one person in and out of Europe, security sources told Times of Malta.

The “person of interest” is understood to have made it through Malta’s cash-for-passports’ initial vetting process by posing as a citizen of another country prompting concerns that he may have been a spy or a state asset working for a dictatorial regime.

The person’s details are being withheld due to security concerns. His Maltese citizenship has since been revoked.

He obtained a Maltese passport in late 2016, sources said, and was first flagged to the Maltese security authorities by the US, with whom information is being shared as part of ongoing vetting.

Senior government sources confirmed that collaboration between US federal agencies and Maltese national security officials was ongoing to this day, with the focus being on how to prevent other people from “slipping through the net” and getting their hands on a Maltese passport.

The Maltese government, including a cabinet minister’s office, is understood to have been collaborating with US officials over the matter in recent months.

A senior government source said the rogue actor had registered a local address in a luxury development in Malta, and used a Maltese passport to travel in and out of Europe several times in recent years, as well as travelling to the US. His Maltese passport and that of two dependants who travelled to Malta with him were all revoked earlier this year.

Maltese passport holders can apply for a visa waiver to enter the US, bypassing lengthy checks which citizens from other countries are eligible for.

The sources did not rule out the possibility that there may have been other similar instances of rogue actors obtaining Maltese passports.

Questions sent to the regulator of the passport programme on Friday were not replied by the time of going to print. However, a source at the regulator said this was not the first time that they had been alerted to such cases.

The so-called Individual Investor Programme has been the subject of hefty criticism from the international community, including the European Commission, which wants the schemes banned across the EU.

The current programme’s residency requirements have been described as overly permissive, allowing wealthy applicants the opportunity to buy EU citizenship while having next to no real tie to the country granting them a passport. Malta is one of several EU countries to operate such schemes.

Despite the negative publicity, the government has stuck by the IIP, insisting the scheme has all the necessary checks and balances to ensure against abuse, while citing the millions it generates for the economy.

In July, Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship Alex Muscat had confirmed that four IIP passport holders had been found to not be in line with the rules. At the time two had been scrapped of their passports, while the process to rescind the others issued were ongoing.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, whose law firm used to sell Maltese passports prior to assuming power in January, has dismissed calls to terminate the scheme. But the government eventually moved to redraft the scheme which comes into force at the end of this month.

Under the new scheme, applicants who invest €750,000, up from €650,000 under the existing rules, will be able to apply for citizenship after living in Malta for one year. Applicants who invest €600,000 will have to spend three years in Malta before applying for a passport. The minimum value of the property purchased will double to €700,000 from €350,000. A €10,000 philanthropic donation will be mandatory.

Up to 400 citizenship applications will be approved per year and the new scheme will be capped at a maximum of 1,500 successful applicants.