Despite continued calls by EU bodies for Malta to stop passport sales, government concessionaire Henley & Partners insists the scheme is endorsed by the European Commission.
An EU law expert warned there was not much Brussels and the European Parliament could do other than exert political pressure.
Ivan Sammut, head of the European and Comparative Law Department at the University of Malta, said European institutions did not have a legal say on issues related to a country’s citizenship, which remained within the competence of a member state. This, he feared, could lead to arguments that EU bodies could be seen as toothless watchdogs.
In a video promotion still appearing on their website, Henley & Partners boasts the scheme is “the only programme of its kind endorsed by the EU”.
However, European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told MEPs in January Brussels did not endorse the scheme.
The Commission was looking at “cash-for-passports” programmes with concern, she added.
Asked whether, in the circumstances, they still believed Malta’s programme was endorsed by the Commission, a spokesman said Henley & Partners did “not believe that the status quo has changed since the inception of the IIP [Individual Investors Programme] in 2014”.
Henley & Partners were also critical of a report in which the Commission said the schemes could give rise to corruption and money laundering. Brussels also urged member states to crack down on countries with schemes granting “golden visas and passports”.
The report lacked “an objective and detailed understanding of the investment migration industry, its practices and the benefits it creates for sovereign states”, the spokesman commented.
He remarked that the fact that the report was produced without meaningfully engaging with key stakeholders undermined its credibility, adding there was no engagement with the investment migration industry on a “positive and good-faith basis”.
Malta’s citizenship-by-investment programme showed a robust “risk management capability so that the threats mentioned in the report become largely redundant”, the spokesman said.
He argued that the threats outlined in the report existed on a much wider scale in other areas of immigration and citizenship practices across Europe, which also needed to be addressed.
The spokesman would not say whether they had been in touch with the government following Ms Jourova’s comments, citing client confidentiality.
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