A whistleblower who handed over most of the material forming part of the Passport Papers investigation first reached out to Daphne Caruana Galizia years ago, providing evidence to the journalist about the cash-for-passports scheme.
After her brutal assassination in October 2017, the family tried to re-establish contact with the informant but had little to go on, not even a name or contact details.
The whistleblower eventually resurfaced and was willing to share more evidence about the scheme that would eventually form the basis of the Passport Papers investigation.
This investigation, carried out under the umbrella of the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation, began last year with the Times of Malta and other local and foreign organisations digging through hundreds of thousands of documents.
The foundation also had its own team of researchers working on the project, with the collaboration made possible thanks to funding received from Investigative Journalism for Europe.
How did it work?
Journalists and researchers spent four months forensically sifting through documents to gain a better understand how the passports scheme really worked.
To carry out such a large-scale investigation, the foundation used an application called Aleph, developed by the Organised Crimes and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
The foundation even had to set up a dedicated IT infrastructure to deal with all the data and make it more easily accessible.
A small technical team at the foundation started processing the data in August 2020.
Starting an investigation on a new dataset is never easy. Where do you begin? What do you look for? Who are all these people?
What did they find?
One of the strongest leads that would eventually emerge was the token approach taken to the requirement for passport buyers to establish a “genuine link” with Malta prior to obtaining citizenship.
The European Commission had demanded the introduction of a one-year residency period, during which applicants were meant to integrate into the community by forming “genuine links” with the island.
Other e-mails and documents would show how certain applicants were given the red-carpet treatment, securing meetings with then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and insight on the latest government projects.
Who is trying to get Maltese citizenship?
The largest proportion of people successfully applying for Maltese, and therefore, EU citizenship were Russian. And, despite a bar on dual citizenship in the country, one in ten passport buyers were from Saudi Arabia.
The data allowed journalists to explore the rental agreements applicants entered into as part of their 12-month residency requirement in Malta. A clear majority of applicants found within the data chose to lease a property that was on, or just above, the legally required amount to qualify for citizenship.
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