In 2013, four years before she was murdered, Daphne Caruana Galizia was the first Maltese journalist to investigate the Malta Government’s plans to sell EU citizenship. Her work became instrumental in revealing the truth about what was happening behind the scenes.

A whistleblower who approached her many years ago has now put their faith in the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, revealing what really happens when wealthy investors attempt to purchase a passport.

This is a joint investigation into the sale of passports as a legalised transaction by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, The Guardian, Dossier Centre and five independent media organisations in Malta: Lovin Malta, Malta Today, The Malta Independent, the Times of Malta and The Shift.

See the stories below.

The main findings of the investigation include:

  • An overwhelming majority of applicants are Russian nationals. Applicants from Saudi Arabia and China make up the second- and third-largest nationalities within the data.
  • The 12-month “effective residency status”, which Malta introduced in January 2014 in agreement with the European Commission, is routinely flouted. Researchers at the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation noticed a trend that applicants were spending very little time in Malta for the 12-month period prior to submitting their application, so they began to research how many days applicants were really spending in the country. The average number of days an applicant spent in Malta while applying for a passport was 16 days, and the median was 14 days.
  • Passport buyers’ rental property, meant to support their 12-month residency requirement, was frequently below the expected standard and, in several cases, non-existent. A phantom building called Vista Point was “rented” to applicants.
  • Most of the passport buyers had no intention of actually living in Malta. Most chose to rent, rather than buy, a property following their passport acquisition and many of the properties were below the expected standard.
  • Documents that passport buyers present as evidence of “genuine links” to Malta — a requirement under the passports scheme — are usually weak (for example, newspaper subscriptions or gym memberships) and frequently dubious (such as tickets to a dolphin show and reptile house).
  • Henley & Partners, a London-based citizenship and residence advisory firm, advised their clients to “do the bare minimum” when it comes to satisfying the criteria for the scheme.
  • Passport buyers’ letters of intent often use similar phrasing, implying that they are not drafted by their signatories.
  • Henley & Partners accepted several high-risk clients, some of whom acquired EU passports through schemes offered by Malta and Cyprus, including two who allegedly benefitted from a Malaysian embezzlement scandal.

The Passport Papers investigations sparked debate in the media and among civil society. It also triggered further reporting beyond the consortium members, statements by Malta’s prime minister and opposition leader and debate at the European level.

Opinion writer Jacques Rene Zammit wrote in The Shift that he believed the scheme was illegal at the European level for several reasons including the fact that EU rights were on sale and not simply Maltese sovereign property.

Another commentator, Ryan Murdock, wrote in the same publication: “The Passport Papers expose’ should put the final nail in the coffin of a programme the EU says undermines the integrity of the status of EU citizenship.”

aditus, a Maltese NGO that advocates for the rights of migrants, expressed anger on social media at the injustice of the “genuine link” requirement and how this flies in the face of difficulties faced by non-Maltese who apply for citizenship by naturalisation (many have their applications rejected though they have lived, worked and paid taxes in Malta for decades).

In response to the Passport Papers, both the prime minister and the opposition leader defended the scheme.

The European Commission reiterated that EU values are not for sale. A Commission spokesperson said granting EU citizenship for pre-determined payments or investments, without a genuine link, undermines the essence of EU citizenship and violates EU law.

In April 2021, a European Parliament resolution noted its concern about the harmful impact of citizenship and residence schemes on the integrity of EU citizenship, and reiterated its call for Maltese authorities to assure transparency and end investor citizenship and residence schemes rather than modify them.

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