CIP passports come at steep price to access the world

Turns out money doesn’t just buy a glamorous vacation in the Caribbean or a killer suite in Quebec — it can buy residency too.

Ireland and other countries have found a lucrative business in citizenship by investment programs that enable access to powerful passport. — Photo from CNN

Ireland and other countries have found a lucrative business in citizenship by investment programs that enable access to powerful passport. — Photo from CNN

While British citizens are rushing to claim Irish passports post-Brexit vote, the world’s most elite travelers don’t bother standing in line at immigration counters.

Instead, they enlist in citizenship by investment programs, where investing in a country’s economy can grant easy access to more powerful passports.

“Generally CIPs draw individuals from countries whose passports offer very limited abilities to travel, such as China, Russia, and Middle Eastern countries,” Nuri Katz, founder of international financial advisory firm Apex Capital Partners, tells CNN Travel.

“Most of the individuals making these types of investments are high net-worth entrepreneurs with net worths of about $2 million to $15 million.”

How CIP came to be

London-based Henley & Partners citizenship planning consultancy named Germany the most desirable passport in the world in its 2017 Visa Restrictions Index thanks to its visa-free entry to 177 countries.

For those holding a less coveted passport, CIPs offer an alternative.

The legal framework enables foreigners to acquire door-opening passports by making large financial contributions, usually in infrastructure development or government bonds.

The concept began in 1984, when St. Kitts and Nevis — a two-island nation in the Caribbean — introduced the original CIP. The practice became more popular in 2009, when the country began heavily marketing its opportunities.

“The St. Kitts and Nevis program is the oldest in existence, so it is considered to be the platinum standard,” says Katz.

“There are lots of CIPs in the Caribbean, because they simply need the money and don’t have many other resources that they can use to attract foreign direct investment.”

Over the years, such programs have become more standard in developed countries as well — the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom offer versions, as do a few countries in Europe.

“There’s still a small percentage of countries, likely around 15, actively marketing versions of CIPs,” says Katz.

“However, many more countries are considering adopting such programs. For example, Montenegro, Georgia and Kazakhstan are all working on creating programs, and several other countries in the Balkans are considering them.”

How it works

Today, Katz estimates that roughly 5,000 people each year acquire citizenship abroad through CIPs.

Katz himself is one of them. Originally an American citizen, the entrepreneur acquired citizenships in Israel and Canada where he lived for long periods. Later, he obtained a St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship through a real estate investment.

He is also a citizen of Antigua, because he purchased a home — where he now resides with his family.

“I pursued citizenship in Antigua because I found a good school there for my son,” he says.

“When I bought the house, I realized that attaining citizenship was a smarter decision than getting a residence permit that would require constant renewals.”

It might seem easy to shell out the money and stock up on passports, but the rigorous application processes can take months — if not years.

Typically, applicants will undergo thorough financial and criminal evaluations to ensure the money has been earned legally, prior to residency or citizenship being approved.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US CIP program is among the most difficult to obtain. Applicants must fulfill a five-year residence requirement before being eligible to apply for citizenship — which is not guaranteed.

“All nationalities are eligible for the investor immigration program in the US — most applicants are from China, but many are from Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and Egypt,” says Katz.

“It can take years for residency to be approved.”

The best passports

CIPs range from $100,000 in the island of Dominica to a minimum of $2.4 million in Cyprus — and the best passports, in terms of mobility, tend to be the most expensive.

“Cyprus is among the most expensive for a number of reasons. For one, the right to live in Europe is considered to be of high value,” explains Katz.

“Additionally, the investment in Cyprus is in real estate and there is a feeling amongst investors that the Cyprus real estate market is well priced and that investing there can lead to good returns.”

The Mediterranean nation is also prized for its easy access to EU residency, quick processing times and relatively fuss-free documentation.

Other popular passports include Portugal, where the country’s Golden Visa Program provides a two-year residency permit and a fast-track to citizenship, extending the courtesy to immediate family.

The fee? Wannabe residents must purchase real estate valued at a minimum of $419,160 or create 10 jobs in the country.

Meanwhile, countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, in the Caribbean, are cheaper — with just a $200,000 contribution into its National Transformation Fund required. However, there’s an additional $50,000 fee for a family of four. — (CNN)

Why do it?

If you’re already scoping property in Cyprus or Portugal, a CIP is like a two-in-one deal.

You’ll walk away with a chunk of ownership in a new five-star resort, as well as a new passport.

There are professional benefits as well. A business traveler with a politically problematic passport might not have time to waste waiting weeks, or months, for expensive visas to be approved.

Instead, he or she might feel it’s a worthwhile investment to purchase $600,000 in government bonds in Bulgaria and enjoy seamless travel to 140-plus visa-free countries — in turn making travel significantly more efficient.

“Business travelers need the ability to be highly mobile and not be restricted by requesting visas to all the countries that they need to travel to,” says Katz.

“For example, without ease of travel, a Chinese person who needs to go on business to Paris and London must first go to the French embassy and request a visa, and then to the British embassy to do the same thing.”

Keeping options open

For US passport holders, for example, a second passport might come in handy if an American is traveling to an unstable country or desires to live and work in Europe.

Americans can hold multiple passports, but if they want to avoid US taxes — or double-taxation, for those living abroad — they must renounce their citizenship.

“Many find it frustrating that America taxes its citizens even if the person lives abroad, making it one of only two countries to do so,” says Katz.

“Taking on an alternate citizenship allows you to give up American citizenship and stop paying taxes.”

Likewise, wealthy families with a restrictive Middle East passport, for example, might choose to invest in a passport from Dominica so they can save time and travel the world more freely.

Or they might consider the investment a sort of security blanket — a back-up plan in case of sanctions, war, or natural disasters.

“It’s considered somewhat of an insurance policy among the many high net worth individuals who believe in both financial diversification, as well as diversification in terms of citizenship,” he adds.

“It is something that gives a certain amount of protection against a dark day that could one day occur.”

The ultimate status symbol

There are some who simply collect passports like they would any other status symbol, from cars to summer homes.

“It shows that one has reached a certain financial level that allows them to invest in a second citizenship,” says Katz.

“Like buying an expensive car, it serves a purpose but it also shows that one can afford it.”

The only high-net worth group who’s not collecting passports? Billionaires.

“Billionaires usually will have taken care of these issues when they are still ‘simple’ millionaires,” says Katz.

“It is generally something that they start thinking about when they reach a net worth of a million or two.”

The price of CIPs

The upsides of CIPs provide economic support for capital-starved countries and personal perks for investors. But they’re not without controversy.

Kate Hooper, an associate policy analyst at the Washington DC-based think tank Migration Policy Institute’s International Program, says the mixed reception of these programs involves a government’s commitment to tracing income sources.

“The exact due diligence procedures tend not to be publicly disclosed, and numerous reports have raised concerns about how effective these processes actually are at screening people and rooting out dirty money,” says Hooper.

“Over the years, there have been a handful of cases where citizenship has been granted to people without proper screening.”

Another issue, she says, is that CIPs put a clear price on residency rights.

“For example, the optics of selling EU citizenship prompted the EU to oppose Malta’s CIP when it was introduced, only backing down when Malta agreed to add a number of additional conditions on granting citizenship, such as minimum residency requirements.”

Unintended side effects

Some experts also express concern about economic and political side effects.

George DeMartino, a professor of international economics and ethics at the University of Denver, suggests CIPs could cause unintended side effects.

“These programs do not ensure a win-win solution to the problem of capital scarcity in poorer countries,” explains DeMartino.

“They are just as apt to represent beggar-thy-neighbor strategies — and this problem is exacerbated when the country with the CIP is relatively wealthy and the investors come from relatively low-income countries,” says DeMartino.

There is also a potentially more serious problem, he says, which involves politics.

“Programs such as these threaten to diminish political fraternity by affording special privileges to the already privileged,” explains DeMartino.

“They permit those with the least need to migrate and achieve citizenship in a new country the greatest opportunity to do so, while those far more desperate to migrate, such as those facing dire economic circumstances at home, are fully excluded from the benefits of these programs. The programs are not the cause of this inequality, but they amplify it.” — (CNN)

'It is my duty to send message that country is open for business' - PM on Dubai conference

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat defended his trip to a citizenship conference in Dubai which took place just over a week after the brutal murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, by saying that that he must send the signal that the country is moving on, and that the country is open for business.

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Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car-bomb on 16 October, just down the road from her Bidnija home. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat left Malta for Dubai on 24 October, to address a conference called the 'Global Citizenship Seminar' by Henley & Partners.

As he was exiting the launch of the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace launch yesterday, this newsroom asked the Prime Minister whether going abroad to a citizenship conference in Dubai while the country is in a state of mourning, where citizens are angry and upset over the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was the wisest choice given the current state of the country.

Muscat’s response was as follows: “I believe that I need to give the sign to everyone that the country is moving on, that we are open for business. Yes there is a day of mourning which I had called for, and yes we will do everything we can to catch the perpetrators of this crime, but I believe that it is also my duty to ensure we send the message loud and clear, that this country is open for business.”

The Opposition was, at the time, hitting the Prime Minister with arguments that government was trying to continue with a business as usual attitude in the wake of the murder.

Since Caruana Galizia’s murder there have been a number of demonstrations and protests organised by civil society.

The Civil Society Network has thus far organised two national demonstrations for justice, the first being held on 22 October, just a couple of days before the Prime Minister’s trip to Dubai, and the second on 29 October. In both protests, demonstrators called for the removal of the police commissioner, the Attorney General and that they be replaced with two other nominees approved by two thirds of Parliament. The police commissioner and Attorney General still hold their posts.

The sale of Maltese citizenship has been a cause of controversy since its inception, with a number of EU MEPs to this day slamming the practice. The Prime Minister over the past years attended a number of Henley and Partners citizenship conferences around the world.

Malta’s golden passport scheme draws fresh criticism

Concerns centre on selection of Jersey consultancy to run operation targeted at the wealthy

A Maltese scheme that allows wealthy investors to buy EU passports has drawn fresh criticism amid concerns over its opaque operation.

The European Commission has been urged by MEPs to take action after Malta’s parliament questioned in a report the way the rights to run the scheme had been granted to a consultancy in Jersey. In their report, Maltese MPs said the government had failed to advertise properly the tender in international publications, leaving Henley & Partners, a Jersey consultancy that specialises in citizenship and visas, as the only credible bidder to run the scheme.

They also complained that it had failed to reassure them there was no conflict of interest among those making the decision to appoint Henley & Partners. Roberta Metsola, an MEP from the centre-right European People’s party, said: “The sale of citizenship without any tangible connection to a member state is something that is of concern.

European citizenship confers certain rights which should simply never just be put up for sale.” The Maltese MEP said such schemes raised questions “particularly in terms of transparency and security for this to be viable in the long term”. More than 1,000 passports have been issued by Malta as a result of the scheme, which was devised by Henley & Partners.

Both the government and Henley & Partners denied wrongdoing. Malta in 2014 pressed ahead with plans to sell EU passports for €650,000 apiece, even after the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution that an EU passport should not have a price tag.

Malta later tightened eligibility criteria for applicants following an intervention from the commission. Malta’s programme has become a gateway for wealthy investors — mainly from politically unstable parts of the world — to secure a base in London. While relatively expensive, it promises a straightforward citizenship programme that then allows participants to operate throughout the 28-member bloc.

London law firms say that as many as three-quarters of their clients seeking so-called investor passports go to Malta and Cyprus rather than use the UK’s more onerous system. Malta plans to sell 1,800 passports, primarily to wealthy people from Russia, China and the Middle East and expects to raise a one-off €1.2bn, almost a third of annual government revenue.

The scheme appeared to receive a boost after Britain tightened its rules for such passports in 2014, demanding a £2m investment, a six-year wait and a requirement to live in the UK for half of that time. Kamal Rahman, partner at Mischon de Reya, a law firm, said: “What’s happening is that the global elite that the UK used to attract is saying, ‘I can have the benefit of being able to live in London whenever I feel like it without the burdens of the UK system’.”

The number of applications under the UK’s tier 1 visa scheme fell by 83 per cent in the first nine months of last year after the Home Office doubled the amount rich foreigners were required to invest.

Selling passports in the age of Trump

The global rich run into roadblocks as they shop for citizenships and residence permits in a post-Brexit world.

Playing your passports right is important in a post-Brexit world  | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Playing your passports right is important in a post-Brexit world | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Not 12 hours after Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, the Swiss citizenship planning firm Henley & Partners reported a spike in Americans inquiring about one of its many alternative residence programs. The boom in business was to some extent predictable. Canada’s immigration website had crashed as the results rolled in, and Irish embassies had already seen months of increased citizenship applications from Americans.

For the passport business — the unexpected result of the American election, and the global uncertainty it wrought — would seem to be a boon.

Indeed, for private “citizenship planning” companies like Henley, which helps clients secure residency and visas to places like Austria, Malta, Cyprus, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and more, instability can often be good for business. And from that perspective, 2016 — with the ongoing war in Syria, terror attacks in France, Britain’s decision to leave the EU, an attempted coup in Turkey, and Trump’s election in the U.S. — has been a very good year.

But the past 12 months have also seen rising waves of populism, nationalism, nativism and skepticism of international institutions and globalization. While the uncertain global climate means more wealthy people are on the move, it also means the values upon which Henley’s industry depends — mobility, internationalism, hospitality — have never been as threatened as they are today.

Given these new conditions, a certain malaise hung over Henley’s 10th Global Residence and Citizenship Conference, a London gathering in mid-November meant to celebrate the industry’s prospects.

At the opening of the event, at the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, staffers from private citizenship planning firms mingled with representatives from passport-selling countries like Malta, Cyprus, Grenada, Monaco, Portugal and most of the Caribbean. But neither the champagne and elderflower cocktails, the Renaissance paintings from Sandro Boticelli’s workshop, nor the upbeat toast delivered by Henley group chairman Christian Kalin could dispel the sense that the conference was being held on decidedly unwelcome territory.

“The history of humankind is largely a history of migration, often forced migration,” Kalin reminded the delegates toward the end of the soiree, as attendees prepared to don tuxedoes and gowns for a black-tie cruise down the Thames. “If you look in your own ancestry, at some point, I’m sure you’ll find that some of your forefathers were refugees. You should always keep this in mind.”

Henley’s customers — mostly so-called “High Net Worth Individuals,” or HNWIs — are not used to finding many points of comparison between themselves and the world’s most desperate people. And while the wealth gap between the two groups remains higher than ever, there was the unmistakable sensation that both are facing the same unfriendly tide.

The British Brexit vote has been followed rising anti-foreigner sentiments in the U.K. – something that Prime Minister Theresa May did nothing to dispel when she declared at the Conservative party conference in October that “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere — you don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

HNWIs treat passports like investments, as indeed they are, and while the sharp turn toward protectionism has driven up demand, over the long term it risks creating a bear market. Today, Austrian citizenship can be purchased for around €2 million, Maltese citizenship for around €1 million. In the U.K., £2 million can buy HNWIs a three-year visa, with the potential for extension. With the U.K. severed from the rest of Europe, and freedom of movement under pressure even within the rest of the European Union, the value of these investments is declining.

“I’ve had clients who feel significantly disincentivized by Brexit,” said Jonathan Burt, one of London’s most highly-rated private wealth managers, “mainly because, as foreigners in a foreign land, they’ve felt unwelcome. They also started to moan about the weather.”

The trip down the Thames was in part a fundraiser for United Nations efforts to register and resettle refugees, and as the yacht circled under the glimmering London bridge, the famed soprano and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks made an appeal to those on board to consider the fate of the less fortunate. “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” she said.

The irony of her remark may have been lost on the audience, most of whom were somewhere between their third and fourth glasses of wine.

Passport buyers’ origins to remain ‘a secret’ Information could irritate diplomatic partners

The origin of foreign millionaires buying a Maltese passport cannot be revealed as it may prejudice the government’s diplomatic relations with other counties, according to Identity Malta.

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Identity Malta’s decision not to release such information was supported by the Data Protection Commissioner, who was brought into the picture by the Times of Malta after seeking details on the so-called individual investor programme under the Freedom of Information Act.

Following a year-long investigation, the Data Protection Commissioner found that the government agency was right in rejecting this newspaper’s request “as the entire information requested is such that the public interest that is served by non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.

The cash-for-passport scheme – introduced just months into Labour’s return to power in 2013 – is still shrouded in secret with the government refusing to publish the names of those buying Maltese citizenship, which puts them on par with Maltese and EU citizens.

A leaked report by the Financial Intelligence and Analysis Unit last year indicated that the government anti-money laundering agency had suspicions that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, could have received kickbacks from proceeds of the passport scheme.

The public interest that is served by non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure

Mr Schembri denied such allegations, insisting that the money in question in fact consisted of repayment of a loan made to Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna.

In the wake of the report, the Times of Malta sought to establish the origin of those buying a Maltese passport and the agents submitting their applications.

This newspaper asked for the number of passport buyers, their country of origin and the agencies that handled their application.

Identity Malta immediately refused to disclose such details, citing the reasons for non-disclosure listed the Freedom of Information Act.

Subsequently, the Times of Malta asked the Data Protection Commissioner to look into the matter, arguing that information it sought was in the public interest.

However, the Data Protection Commissioner disagreed and concluded that the publication of such information “may prejudice relations with a number of the countries of origin” from where the passport buyers hailed.

Identity Malta, he added, was also correct not to list the agencies involved “as this could reasonably be expected to prejudice commercial interests and, ultimately, the competitiveness of approved agents as it would reveal commercially-sensitive information”.

Originally, foreign company Henley & Partners had been appointed as sole agent to sell Maltese passports but, after an uproar, the government decided to open the scheme to Maltese firms too, mainly lawyers’ and accountants’ partnerships and financial services providers.

The government only publishes the names of the passport buyers together with those of other foreigners acquiring citizenship by naturalisation or through other ‘normal’ channels.

Identity Malta said that, until the middle of last year, 679 foreigners had bought Maltese citizenship.

The majority, 362, originated from European countries, followed by 100 from the Gulf region and another 92 from Asia.

Regional CBI firm linked to journalist assassinated in Malta

VALLETTA, Malta — An advisory firm that plays a major role in promoting the citizenship by investment (CBI) programs run by Grenada and Saint Lucia, and also was similarly involved in the corresponding program in St Kitts and Nevis, has been accused of conspiring to assassinate a Maltese journalist who was killed by a car bomb earlier this week.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, a journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta, had recently filed a police report complaining of death threats.

She had exposed numerous offshore dealings of prominent figures in Malta and was also the mother of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) developer and data journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia.

The chairman of citizenship consultants Henley and Partners, Christian Kalin, has now been named by Caruana Galizia’s children as being part of a “gang of crooks” who sought to “financially cripple” the renowned journalist.

“There was a gang of crooks, including Christian Kalin of Henley and Partners, and lawyers at Mischon de Reya in London, who conspired with politicians in Malta to financially cripple my mother with one vexatious lawsuit after another,” Matthew Caruana Galizia posted on Facebook.

In May she reported that she had “evidence in the form of email exchanges” that legal action by Henley and Partners against her was “taken on instruction from, and in collusion with” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri, and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.

Henley and Partners were recently implicated in a regional controversy after a report was published online on August 18, 2017 concerning an alleged scheme to obtain a diplomatic passport from the government of Grenada for a Ukrainian businessman, in exchange for a payment of US$1 million to a purported Henley account with wells Fargo Singapore.

These allegations had previously come to light in Caribbean government circles on
October 27, 2016, when the individual in question sent an email to the prime minister of
Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, saying that he had been dealing with “a person called Chris who represents Henley and Partner who according to him are authorized as agents and advisors to Antigua and St Lucia.”

Browne responded that “we do not sell diplomatic appointments; therefore, the country concerned could not be Antigua and Barbuda… If perchance someone represented that they could sell you an Antiguan diplomatic appointment, you need to move quickly to recover your funds, because that [the sale of diplomatic passports] is not possible under the stewardship of my government”.

“Chris” was later identified in online report as Christopher Willis, the former managing partner of Henley & Partners Caribbean, who has since left the firm.

On November 14, 2016, the Ukrainian businessman sent the same inquiry to Grenada member of parliament, Alexandra Otway-Noel, then the minister responsible for the Grenada citizenship by investment programme.

One week later on November 21, 2016, he told Ottway-Noel that he had “received confirmation from Chris who has confirmed funds will be returned within three days”.

Ottway-Noel resigned in January 2017 as a member of the ruling New National Party (NNP) government in Grenada.

In a press statement on August 21, 2017, the government of Grenada denied “any knowledge of this allegation or activity”, a position that was not supported by the facts in the light of the emails regarding the matter written by Ottway-Noel at a time when she was a senior government minister.

Ottway-Noel has since confirmed that she did in fact receive the emails in question and responded as reported.

The Grenada government also claimed that it “does not even have a diplomatic passport programme in the first place, and is therefore not in the business of selling diplomatic passports to anyone.”

However, again this assertion is contradicted by history and the granting of Grenada diplomatic passports in questionable circumstances by previous administrations led by current prime minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, has been dealt with extensively in leaked diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Bridgetown, published by Wikileaks.

Notwithstanding that the government of Antigua and Barbuda was a completely innocent and uninvolved bystander in the matter, Henley nevertheless transmitted the following message to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, blaming one of its competitors, Arton Capital, for instigating the story:

“Wells Fargo Bank now also confirmed that the screenshot is false, there has never been any such transactions and there is no such bank account. And our forensic experts have triangulated with almost 99% certainty that this fake news story was instigated by Arton. We are considering to demand that goverment (sic) stops any interaction with Arton immediately or we will stop instead.”

In response, a spokesman for Arton said: “Arton Capital strongly rejects these allegations and denies any involvement in this story. It is certainly not in the business of disseminating ‘fake news’. Arton Capital takes its reputation extremely seriously and will take all necessary steps to correct falsehoods and protect its hard-won reputation for trust and diligence. The founders of the company are committed to driving forward the highest standards of best practice, regulation, and governance for the citizenship industry.”

Further, on its face, the message in question represented an apparent attempt at extortion by Henley in seeking to obtain a commercial advantage by means of a threat.

To compound the situation, in a widely disseminated “media statement” dated Thursday, August 24, 2017, Henley falsely claimed that the government of Antigua and Barbuda had confirmed in a separate statement that allegations concerning the “sale” of diplomatic passports are completely false.

The government of Antigua and Barbuda had issued no such statement, and in fact would be incapable of doing so since it had already made clear that it had no knowledge whatsoever of the events and circumstances in question. The claim by Henley that it did so was accordingly an outright lie.

Henley never responded to a request to produce the statement in question that it claimed to have been issued by the government of Antigua and Barbuda.

The publication of such a lie as fact by Henley represented the dissemination of “fake news” which, in an even more bizarre turn of events, its US lawyers acknowledged in a letter dated August 29, 2017, to Caribbean News Now, confirming that the making of false claims and the dissemination of “fake news” by its client constituted “criminal conduct”.

Henley’s own lawyers therefore apparently acknowledged their client’s criminal conduct, with the intent thereby to impede, obstruct or influence the administration of justice contrary to US law (18 USC § 1519 – Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy):

“Whoever knowingly … conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document… with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States … or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

A complaint against Henley in this respect has been filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other relevant US federal agencies.

PASSPORT ISSUED BY RAOUL WALLENBERG TO PROTECT JEWS DURING WW2 SOLD FOR OVER $13,000

NEW YORK – A rare protective passport signed by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and used to transport Hungarian Jews into Sweden during World War II was sold for $13,310 after attracting four bids at an auction in Los Angeles.

Passport issued by Raoul Wallenberg to protect Jews during WW2..  (photo credit:NATE D. SANDERS AUCTIONS)

Passport issued by Raoul Wallenberg to protect Jews during WW2.. (photo credit:NATE D. SANDERS AUCTIONS)

Wallenberg, who was fluent in Hungarian, saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during WWII by issuing fake protective passports, which claimed Jewish individuals being deported to concentration camps were actually Swedish citizens awaiting repatriation.

This was part of a relief effort put together by the United States The passports were often accepted by German and Hungarian authorities. Jews holding these passports were treated as Swedish citizens and were exempt from wearing Jewish yellow star badges.

Wallenberg was captured in early 1945. Little is known about what may have happened to him, but many believe he was seized by the Soviets and died some years later in a Russian labor camp.

The passport sold on Thursday was offered during an auction organized by Nate D. Sanders Auctions, which specializes in documents and autographs.It was issued on September 22, 1944, in Budapest by the Royal Swedish Embassy and was signed by Raoul Wallenberg.

The document, written in Hungarian on Royal Swedish Embassy/ Budapest letterhead, confirms that the recipient has been awarded Swedish citizenship and respectfully asks that he be granted “immunity against the discriminatory [yellow star] mark.”

It measures some 20 centimeters by 15 centimeters and has a single vertical fold, with separation starting at its ends.

Bidding for the passport began at $8,000 and attracted four bidders before being sold. Nate D. Sanders Auctions would not disclose the identity of the buyer.

That Feeling When You Travel for Plastic Surgery... And Get Stuck When Your Face Doesn't Match Your Passport Photo

"It's me, I swear!" That's how we imagine the conversation went down in the airport scenario behind a photo that's become a viral sensation in China. The image purportedly shows three travelers stranded at the airport when they no longer looked like the photos in their passports. Behold:

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They seem to have taken advantage of South Korea's expertise in plastic surgery — it's the world capital of cosmetic procedures after all. Friendcation fun, right? But the problem came when they tried to board a plane back home with bandaged and swollen faces.

According to AsiaOne, Chinese TV host Jian Huahua posted the photo on Weibo with this caption: "Received from frontline personnel at the airport during the holidays: These women made use of the long holidays to undergo plastic surgery in South Korea. On the way back, they were unable to leave the country and had to await proof of identification. Even your mother won't recognise you."

But all might not be as it seems: South Korea is disputing this story. According to Shanghaiist, South Korea's Ministry of Justice told South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo that this story was "fake news" without "any basis in facts." As well, the Chinese TV anchor deleted the photo from her social media account.

Still, if you travel for significant cosmetic procedures, it might be worth taking a few more days to rest up and heal post-surgery, before trying to board an international flight. The more you know.

This Woman's Passport Photo Went Horribly Wrong

Getting a new passport photo can feel like a lot of pressure: First, you have to follow the ever-changing rules and regulations. And then you have to try to look as cute as possible for an image you’ll carry with you for a decade in one of the most important documents you’ll ever have.

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So imagine one woman’s surprise when she thought she’d done everything right — posing for a cute and ordinary snapshot and sending it off for processing.

But when her new passport arrived in the mail, Austin’s Chelsey Ramos didn’t look quite like herself. In fact, the state department had stretched her imagine into a pretty hilarious, and rather unflattering, conehead.

Her boyfriend posted the image on Reddit, noting, “The State Department nailed my girlfriend's passport.” It’s since gone viral.

Even the state department itself weighed in on the thread, noting: “Whoops! U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs here. That is not our finest work. Please tell her we're sorry for the mistake and we're happy to fix it at no charge.”

But the star of the viral photo told Travel + Leisure she’d actually be kind of into it, except for the fear that keeping it as is could mess with her future ability to travel. 

"I would have loved to keep this passport but decided to send it back because I don't want to run into any issues at the airport,” she said. “The state department was super helpful though and are swapping it out for free."

The British passport is worth the same as Argentina's under a 'Hard Brexit'

The British passport would be worth the same as Argentina's if the rights of free movement are stripped from the UK in a hard Brexit, according to a study of passport power.

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The study, by citizenship planning firm Henley and Partners, takes into account how many countries can be visited without applying for a visa.

Currently Germany tops the league with 177 countries open out of a maximum of 218. The UK is joint-third with France, Italy and Spain at 175 countries.

Argentina is down in 22nd place, below Romania, San Marino and Chile.

"We did studies of what makes one nationality more valuable than another, and of course the British nationality is one of the best in the world," Professor Dimitry Kochenov at the University of Groningen, who compiled the report, said at a conference in London.

"And then just as a joke we looked at the effect of Brexit – hard Brexit without any free movement with full detachment from the rights that come from the European Union – and it ended up with the UK passport at the level of the Argentine document," Kochenov said.

Here is the chart:

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He added: "That's why this war against common sense waged by the government of this country is extremely dangerous. The stakes are extremely high."

The British passport faces an overhaul once the Brexit negotiations, due to start next year, are completed. 

While the words "European Union" will disappear from the front of the passports, the government has indicated that their colour could also change from burgundy to blue, The Times reported in September.

"We are considering potential changes to the UK passport after the UK has left the European Union," the immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, said in reply to a parliamentary questionabout reintroducing Britain's "old blue style passport" from the Conservative MP Julian Knight.

Kochenov said that London would be hardest hit in a hard Brexit scenario, where the government prioritises immigration control over keeping some aspects of single market membership. In that case, a separate "London citizenship" may make sense.

"A London visa, while it might sound absurd, might actually be a good idea given the drastic gap between what the government thinks is good and what really is good for London," Kochenov said.

"A city can actually exist disconnected from the physical area surrounding it as long as its connected to a strong economy somewhere else," he added.

You can buy elite residency in Thailand for $60,000 — and the government will even provide a 'concierge' service

LONDON — The Thai government has started offering "elite" residency visas for wealthy foreign citizens, allowing them to live in the country for around $3,000 (£2,403) a year, aimed at capitalising on increased global uncertainty over borders and immigration.

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There are seven different packages, with the most expensive being the "Elite Ultimate Privilege" scheme.

It costs $60,000 for 20 years residency, along with a $600 a year membership fee.

Included in the price is a state-sponsored concierge programme, entitling members to VIP access to government agencies dealing with immigration, driving licences, and work permits.

The government will also provide complimentary return airport transfers, an annual health check up at a private hospital and 24 spa treatments and golfing trips a year.

The special residence visa is issued by the Thailand Privilege Card Company Limited — a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Pruet Boobphakam, president of the Thailand Elite program, told Business Insider that VIP residents would get extra help from the government: "We rise to the occasion for our members. We can apply for a work permit if they'd like to. We can apply for a driving licence if they'd like to. We are helping them to get those licences."

He said he expects more than 1,000 people to apply for the programme, which is aimed at retirees.

Other packages include a $15,000 deal for five years with no annual fee called "Elite Easy Access," and also a 10-year, $30,000 membership that includes discounts for family members.

"There has been a sharp increase worldwide in the number of individuals wanting to acquire a beneficial second or third residence or citizenship to globalize their family’s opportunities and expand their business interests in a changing and uncertain world," said Dominic Volek, head of Southeast Asia for Henley & Partners, a citizenship consultancy firm.

"More and more governments are seeing these programs as an innovative way of driving economic growth," Volek said.  

You can now buy full citizenship of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu for less than 44 bitcoin

LONDON – The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu will accept payments in Bitcoin for its $200,000 citizenship program, becoming the first country to accept the cryptocurrency in return for citizen status.

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Bitcoin is trading at $4,581 at current market rates, meaning Vanuatu's citizenship by investment program would cost around 43.64 bitcoin.

Vanuatu is a member of the Commonwealth and citizenship provides visa-free travel to 113 countries including the UK, Russia and European Union states.

Vanuatu also advertises its low taxes for citizenship buyers, offering a second passport in a country that levies no capital gains or income taxes. Potential citizens don't need to live in Vanuatu, or even visit the country once.

James Harris, managing director of the Vanuatu Information Centre Network said: "There remains some suspicion surrounding the use of crypto-currency in financial transactions, and some fears that it can be related to undesirable activities.

"In fact, the opposite is true, as crypto-currency exists in a fully traceable ledger where the entire history of its creation and trading is visible," he said. 

The multi-billion dollar investment migration industry, which sees governments offering visas and citizenship to people in return for investments in local businesses and property, has boomed amid increased global uncertainty over borders and immigration.

Earlier this year, the Thai government started offering "elite" residency visas for wealthy foreign citizens, allowing them to live in the country for around $3,000 (£2,403) a year.

There are seven different packages, with the most expensive being the "Elite Ultimate Privilege" scheme. It costs $60,000 for 20 years residency, along with a $600 a year membership fee.

Included in the price is a state-sponsored concierge programme, entitling members to VIP access to government agencies dealing with immigration, driving licences, and work permits.

Passport sales trips for PM

The Prime Minister will be promoting the sale of Maltese passports during two key events organised by Henley & Partners in Dubai and Hong Kong.

Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri with Henley president Chris Kalin.

Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri with Henley president Chris Kalin.

The Prime Minister will be promoting the sale of Maltese passports during two key events organised by Henley & Partners in Dubai and Hong Kong.

Joseph Muscat is set to travel to the United Arab Emirates later this month to participate in a global citizenship seminar organised by Henley, the Maltese passport scheme’s concessionaire. He will be delivering a “special keynote speech” during the event, being held on October 25 at the Palace Hotel, one of the most luxurious properties in Dubai.

According to Henley & Partners, the seminar will focus on how affluent and talented individuals can acquire an additional passport through strategic investment.

Less than a month later, on November 14, Dr Muscat will address a global residence and citizenship conference, an annual event by Henley & Partners, in Hong Kong.

Around 500 delegates from around the world seeking more information on how to obtain a second passport through investment are expected to attend the Hong Kong event. Passport schemes offered mainly by Caribbean countries will be marketed during the two-day conference, though Portugal and Cyprus will also be promoting their programmes.

During his first term as Prime Minister, Dr Muscat participated in 11 conferences and seminars around the globe promoting Malta’s cash-for-passports scheme, officially known as the Individual Investor Programme, which was launched soon after Labour returned to government in 2013.

Henley & Partners have been given the concession to market the scheme abroad, with the contract binding senior members of the Maltese government to participate in sales promotions around the world.

Promotional events have been held in the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE, Lebanon and Switzerland.

No replies were forthcoming when this newspaper asked the Office of the Prime Minister about the upcoming trips to Dubai and Hong Kong and whether the contract with Henley & Partners obliged Dr Muscat himself to participate personally in such activities.

According to the latest data given by the scheme’s regulator, there were 723 applicants and 1,186 dependents seeking a Maltese passport at the end of June.

The government does not publish the particulars of those acquiring a passport through the scheme, only their names.

A leaked report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit raised suspicions about the possibility of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, receiving kickbacks from the scheme. The government’s anti-money-laundering agency recommended that the police investigate further, but it cannot be ascertained whether this in fact happened.

Mr Schembri has denied any wrongdoing, and a magisterial inquiry into the matter, sparked by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, is ongoing.

More than 3,100 Americans renounced citizenship last year: FBI

More than 3,100 Americans shed their citizenship last year, FBI figures show. The numbers come from published statistics and documents obtained by Global News under U.S. freedom-of-information laws.

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The total of 3,128 is lower than the 4,652 people added to an FBI database of ex-citizens. But the 2012 total includes about 2,900 names entered in October, 2012 as the State Department cleared a backlog, FBI spokesperson Stephen G. Fischer Jr. explained in an e-mail. Deducting those names brings 2012’s total down to 1,752, and makes last year’s total the highest since at least 2006. In 2011, 958 names were added.

 

The FBI data captures only part of the total number of ex-Americans. Some people “relinquish” U.S. citizenship – for example, by taking citizenship in another country while intending to lose U.S. citizenship, then asking the State Department to document the loss. Relinquishing is more attractive for several reasons, not least because it’s free – a renunciation costs $450 US.

Global News’s efforts to get more detailed statistics from the State Department through American freedom-of-information laws have so far been unsuccessful .

Under U.S. law, people who renounce citizenship are barred from buying guns in the United States. They’re entered in an FBI database that includes fugitives, convicts, drug addicts, people dishonorably discharged from the military and people subject to domestic violence-related restraining orders.

U.S. consulates in Canada have seen their share of renunciations. In November 2011, the U.S. consulate in Toronto tried to cope with the rising numbers of would-be ex-citizens by handling them on a group basis.

So what’s driving the exodus?

Unlike other industrialized countries, the United States requires citizens to file tax returns whether or not they live in the country.

(What is it like to renounce U.S. citizenship? Several dozen first-hand accounts can be seen here (.pdf).)

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Between 2008 and 2012, an average of 172 Canadians renounced their citizenship each year – typically because they want to run for office in a foreign country, join a foreign country’s military or become citizens of a country that doesn’t allow dual citizenship, Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson Mary Jago explained in an e-mail.

“You don’t hear stories about renunciations from other countries like [America’s],” says McGill University tax law professor Allison Christians. “Why is that? It’s because the U.S. taxes what it considers to be ‘U.S. persons’ on a worldwide basis. ”

“That was all fine, because until about 2010 the U.S. was not really enforcing compliance with its own worldwide citizenship tax regime,” she added. But now, “the U.S. basically just put a really big price on citizenship, saying, ‘We’re going to crack down on this now, we’re going to find you, and if you haven’t been paying your taxes we’re going to fine you for not filing, even if you’ve never owed any taxes.'”

The pressure to lose U.S. citizenship may increase when the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, comes into force this summer. The act would require financial institutions outside the country to identify and report their American customers, or face punitive taxes on their U.S. investments.

Canada’s Department of Finance continues to negotiate an agreement with the IRS. Retired law professor Peter Hogg, an expert on the Charter of Rights, wrote in 2012 that an agreement would be “discriminatory in a way that would not withstand Charter scrutiny.”

“The objective of ensuring compliance with U.S. tax laws is probably not important enough to justify breaches of the Canadian Charter, and even if it was important enough, the measures contemplated are grossly disproportionate to the objective.”

On Thursday, a report released by the U.S. National Taxpayer Advocate strongly criticized FATCA in a report to Congress, saying the costs exceed projected revenue, the law creates sovereigntyconflicts with other countries – using Canada as an example – and the IRS’s computer systems aren’t ready to handle such a complex project.

“[The] IRS has not acted upon advice it has received from some well-informed stakeholders,” Nina Olsen warned in the report. “FATCA carries with it the potential for substantial resource burdens and significant due process concerns.”

Fugitive tycoon Gusinsky got Spanish passport on special orders

Vladimir Gusinsky, a former Russian media magnate wanted back home on fraud charges, was granted Spanish citizenship by special order of the government in Madrid, the EU nation's Cabinet said Monday.

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MADRID, February 26 (RIA Novosti) - Vladimir Gusinsky, a former Russian media magnate wanted back home on fraud charges, was granted Spanish citizenship by special order of the government in Madrid, the EU nation's Cabinet said Monday.

Spanish media Sunday cited the protocol of a February 9 session of the Spanish Council of Ministers as saying that Gusinsky, 54, had become a Spanish national.

"Spanish authorities use this form of granting citizenship - on 'special instructions' (por carta de naturaleza) - only in special cases," said Russian Yelena Feoktistova, a member of the Madrid Bar Association.

Now Russian authorities cannot seek the extradition of Gusinsky, who also holds an Israeli passport, from Spain. The Spanish citizenship also enables the businessman, who amassed his fortune in the controversial privatization campaign in post-Soviet Russia in the early 1990s, to travel throughout the EU without fearing arrest on a Russian request.

The press service of the Spanish government declined to comment on the decision.

Gusinsky, former head of the Media-Most Group, which set up Russia's once top independent TV channel - NTV, faced fraud charges for the first time in the summer of 2000. The charges were dropped after the businessman signed papers turning over ownership of the media holding to Russia's state-run gas monopoly Gazprom.

The channel did not support Vladimir Putin's first election campaign in early 2000.

Gusinsky left for Spain where he stayed until Russian prosecutors pressed fraud charges against him again later that year. The tycoon was detained following a Russian extradition request in December 2000 in a millionaires' village of Sotogrande, in southern Spain, where he was living. Spanish authorities refused to extradite Gusinsky, calling him "a victim of political purges," and released him a few months later.

Another exiled Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, was granted political asylum in Britain in 2003. He had to give up his ownership of the ORT television channel to another tycoon, Roman Abramovich, in the early 2000s. Abramovich later handed over his controlling stake to the government.

The ‘golden visa’ deal: ‘We have in effect been selling off British citizenship to the rich’

The little-known immigration arrangement provided British residency in exchange for a £2m investment. Now a fraud case involving a Kazakh billionaire has shed light on how 3,000 wealthy people entered the country under the scheme – with no Home Office checks

For some, it may come as a surprise to learn that residence can effectively be bought

For some, it may come as a surprise to learn that residence can effectively be bought

By the standards of The Bishops Avenue, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the world, Vipram House is nothing to write home about. While some of the north London street’s properties can change hands for dozens of millions of pounds, two years ago Vipram House sold for just £10m.

A 2013 estate agent’s brochure for what was then called Carlton House encouraged potential buyers to look past an unimpressive exterior. “The understated architecture of the frontage gives little indication of the luxury and opulence that lies within,” it said, “including 7 bedrooms all with lavish marble en-suite bathrooms, an indoor leisure and swimming pool complex and even an indulgent 10-person Turkish bath.”

Less attention was lavished on the circumstances of the sale. Carlton House had been seized in connection with a massive international fraud case, involving billions of dollars allegedly looted from a Kazakh bank. Hundreds of companies, many offshore, had their assets frozen in an attempt to recover the funds. Eight years and dozens of court cases later, the bank is still pursuing its own ex-chairman for the billions it alleges he stole.

Now, one of the myriad legal disputes to result from the Kazakh bank case has shed new light on a little-known immigration scheme used by the family at the centre of the scandal.

Madiyar Ablyazov was born in Kazakhstan in 1992, to Alma Shalabayeva and her husband Mukhtar Ablyazov. He lived there until the age of 10, then relocated to London and the luxury of Carlton House, where he lived with his aunt and uncle while studying at private schools, including Northbridge House and Highgate.

In 2008, as he approached the end of his studies, his family began contemplating alternatives that would allow him to remain in the country. Their eventual solution was an immigration scheme known as a “golden visa”. Officially called a “Tier 1 investor” visa in the UK, the scheme gives individuals residency in exchange for investing £2m in UK bonds or shares through a bank, with applicants eligible for indefinite leave to remain, and even full citizenship, after five years. That is, unless they can stump up more cash: those offering £5m can settle after three years, and those with £10m after just two.

Because the original investment is returned to the applicant along with any interest accrued, the state technically makes a loss on each visa. But supporters of the scheme argue that as well as an investment in gilts – effectively a loan to the government – the country attracts people with substantial sums of money to spend on goods, hire workers or pay taxes.

Plenty of other countries, Malta, Cyprus and Portugal among them, offer rival schemes, with varying terms. The US’s EB-5 pathway, for instance, exchanges passports for a $1m investment in any business that will create at least 10 jobs (the former company of Jared Kushner was recently found hawking these visas in China). But all are fundamentally offering the same trade: show us the money, and in return receive residency, citizenship or passports.

 The ‘understated’ Vipram House, formerly Carlton House, an Ablyazov family home in The Bishops Avenue.  Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

 The ‘understated’ Vipram House, formerly Carlton House, an Ablyazov family home in The Bishops Avenue. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

What sort of people buy a golden visa? “The common trait is they’re very successful business people,” says John Hanafin, chief executive officer of Arton Capital, which specialises in what is known in the trade as “investment migration”. Many of his clients, often from the Middle East or Africa, want the mobility that a second passport entails, with those granting EU access especially highly prized.

“[They] can’t go to a meeting in Paris on a Monday because they’ve got to apply for a Schengen visa and they need three to four weeks’ notice,” he says. “They might be heads of industry in these countries. They might even have their own airplane. Their airplane can fly into these countries and have licences to land, but they can’t.”

For others, alternative citizenship can offer a bolthole in times of trouble. “It’s a bit of a barometer of strife and turmoil in the world,” says Paul Williams of La Vida Golden Visas, whose firm used to focus on those looking to invest in overseas property. “They’re looking to the future more for security, whether that be in investment of their assets, or in physical security. If something goes wrong at home, they’ve got somewhere to go and live.”

Right now, he says, Portugal offers the best deal. “Half a million euros investment in real estate … gets you residency, but most people don’t live there. Most people use it to invest, rent the property out, but they’ve got it as a sort of security policy.”

Williams’ first golden visa client arrived four years ago, looking to move to Portugal. “It was a fairly high-ranking former politician from a smallish country, but we didn’t know who he was,” he says. “We realised afterwards, once he was investing quite a bit of money. We looked him up and kind of went, ‘Right, our game has changed. We’re no longer selling real estate in Europe to people looking for second homes.”

Mukhtar Albyazov (centre) with his son Madiyar after being released from jail in France in 2016 . Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Mukhtar Albyazov (centre) with his son Madiyar after being released from jail in France in 2016. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

For some, it may come as a surprise to learn that residence or citizenship can effectively be bought. But the idea has been around for some time, first being pioneered by the tiny twin islands of St Kitts and Nevis in 1984.

In 1994 then-home secretary Michael Howard faced a minor political scandal after a leaked white paper on improving the UK’s “competitiveness” included a provision for ‘immigrant investors’. Labour slammed the scheme as a plot to allow wealthy Tory donors to “jump the queue” into the UK. But after that brief outrage the scheme receded from public view, and has never played any major role in the country’s years of bitter discourse about foreigners or immigrants.

The steadily rising cost of immigration bureaucracy has already helped to effectively exclude immigrants without resources; the cost of submitting an indefinite leave to remain application rose 18% to £2,297 earlier this year. But beyond this, the system has tended to assume that the more money an applicant has, the better an immigrant they will be, without ever quite explaining why. The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, a points-based system introduced under Labour in 2002, awarded more points for those with higher earnings. Golden visas simply take this principle to its logical extreme: the only merit an immigrant need demonstrate is their wealth.

Critics worry that such schemes have commodified national identity, for questionable or no gain. “This is an area where successive governments have allowed rich people to jump the queue. It’s the sort of thing that tax havens do to encourage inward investment,” says Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords. “We have in effect been selling off British citizenship to the rich from often non-democratic countries who otherwise one would not regard as desirable immigrants.”

More darkly, others allege the schemes are effectively conduits for stolen money. “The problem with these kind of schemes, and the one in the UK in particular, is that it’s letting people in without sufficient security checks,” says Naomi Hirst, a senior campaigner at the anti-corruption group Global Witness. “We’ve long had concerns that applicants who came through in the blind faith period were not subject to proper security checks.”

The phrase “blind faith period” is used by anti-corruption campaigners to refer to 2008 to 2015, when checks on applicants and their wealth were the responsibility of neither the British government nor applicants’ banks. “The Home Office assumed that the banks were doing the checks on the individuals, and the banks themselves were assuming that, because this individual was applying for a visa via the Home Office, the checks would be done further down the line,” says Hirst.

Madiyar Ablyazov … his Kazakh family took out a ‘golden visa’ that allowed him to remain in the UK.  Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Madiyar Ablyazov … his Kazakh family took out a ‘golden visa’ that allowed him to remain in the UK. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

 “About 3,000 individuals came through in that period. We are completely in the dark about the extent to which the UK government actually knew who these people were and where their money was coming from.”

Attempts to prove this either way by journalists or campaigners always hit the same stumbling block: applicants’ names are secret. Until last year, that is, when one of the dozens of Ablyazov fraud cases reached the high court.

In January 2008 – right at the beginning of the blind faith period – the Ablyazovs began applying for Madiyar’s Tier 1 investor visa. Solicitors were hired, Swiss bank accounts were opened, and funds of just over £1m were put into Madiyar’s name (the investment threshold was raised to £2m in 2015). As part of the process, the family provided the UK Border Agency with a “memorandum of gift”. The document, which bore the signatures of both father and son, stated: “[Madiyar] has been gifted £1m sterling. [Madiyar] is the recipient of the gift,” and identified Mukhtar as his benefactor. The application was filed in March 2009, and two months later Madiyar was granted his Tier 1 visa.

Around the same time, however, Mukhtar fled Kazakhstan for London. BTA Bank, which he had chaired since 2005, was being probed by regulators, who had found that almost 20% of its loan portfolio was “non-performing” (meaning the debtors were missing their scheduled payments, and the loans were likely to default).

BTA announced it could not meet its liabilities. The Kazakh sovereign wealth fund took over the bank at a cost of $1.4bn, and Ablyazov was removed as chairman. To quote one of the subsequent high court judgments the case would generate: “BTA formed the view that its former management, and in particular Mr Ablyazov, had perpetrated a huge and systematic fraud against it, primarily by purporting to lend or otherwise transfer billions of dollars to offshore companies with no assets and which appeared to be in the control of Mr Ablyazov or his associates.”

Within months, BTA had brought proceedings against its former chairman in the UK, obtaining a court order requiring him to disclose his worldwide assets, as well as a freezing order that would potentially allow them to be recovered. Mukhtar fled to France after being sentenced to jail for contempt of court for “failing to disclose assets, lying in cross-examination and dealing with assets in breach of the Freezing Order”, but was later apprehended in Nice after detectives working for BTA tailed one of his lawyers to a villa where he was hiding. A court of appeal judge would later observe it was “difficult to imagine a party to commercial litigation who has acted with more cynicism, opportunism and deviousness than Mr Ablyazov.”

As of December last year, BTA had been awarded judgments in its favour to the tune of $4.9bn, which it is still trying to recover from Mukhtar. His son Madiyar, meanwhile, has mostly flown under the radar, going on to work in a financial services firm and a startup in Geneva. In 2013 he obtained indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and in 2014 his investment matured.

It is unclear what, if any, due diligence checks the Home Office carried out on the Ablyazovs. By the time Madiyar applied for indefinite leave to remain, the fraud allegations against his father were the subject of international media coverage. A cursory Google search would have been more than enough to uncover the fraud allegations around Ablyazov money. And crucially, the Home Office had the signed memorandum of gift, confirming the cash financing his investment originally belonged to his father.

“It beggars belief that when the Home Office granted Ablyazov his Tier 1 visa in 2009 and then indefinite leave to remain in 2013, they did not know about his father and the allegations made against him by the bank,” says Hirst. “The Home Office immediately needs to task law enforcement to review those 3,000 individuals that came into the UK through the Tier 1 investor visa scheme before November 2015.”

The Home Office has effectively admitted to never having reviewed the 3,000 blind faith golden visa applicants to identify how many of them are “politically exposed persons”  foreign officials considered high risk for corruption. With each having invested at least £1m, up to £3bn could have entered the scheme to finance the British government, with no checks on the source of the cash.

A cursory Google search would have been enough to uncover the fraud allegations around Ablyazov money

“The Home Office took these funds and potentially cleaned that money for the Ablyazovs. That’s ultimately what it looks like,” Hirst continues. “If this money was not legitimate, [if] it was dirty money that was coming in through the Tier 1 Investor scheme, and it was invested in UK government bonds, the UK government was potentially laundering money for these people unwittingly.”

The Home Office did not dispute that its former due diligence requirements during the blind faith period had been insufficient, but declined to comment specifically on the Ablyazov case. In a statement a spokesperson said: “We carry out a range of robust checks on all those applying for these visas – and banks are required to carry out their own due diligence on all applicants.”

Today, with the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU still to be decided, the Tier 1 scheme’s future looks perilous. Instead, the British are wondering if they might like to acquire golden visas elsewhere instead. “We never had inquiries from British people in our industry before, and for the first time we’re getting inquiries from British people saying, ‘What will it mean for me to have a British passport if I can’t go to Europe?’” says Hanafin.

“The biggest barrier going up at the moment is Brexit,” agrees Williams. “Our advice has been, ‘Sit tight, see what happens’, but we have people who are concerned about their future. They want their children to grow up European. ‘What’s happening, I travel a lot in Europe, I have homes in Europe, am I gonna be able to travel to them?’ Nobody knows the answer to those questions yet.”

BTA ultimately lost its claim to recover the money used to fund Madiyar’s golden visa, despite it having originated from an offshore company named on an asset freezing order, effectively on the grounds that Mukhtar wasn’t intending to put the money beyond the reach of the bank when he gave his son the cash. For their part, the Ablyazovs maintain their innocence.

Madiyar declined to comment, but his lawyer stressed that he had spent the majority of his life in Britain, and been found by the UK courts to have acted in full compliance with the law in applying for and receiving his investor visa.

Mukhtar, meanwhile, has successfully resisted efforts by Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to extradite him from France. His defence, supported by human rights groups as well as the UN special rapporteur on torture, rested on the risk he would face as a political opponent of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Ablyazovs have accused Nazarbayev of coordinating a campaign of persecution against them, with the lawsuit to recover the investor visa money just one aspect thereof.

In 2008 the Times reported that Nazarbayev had used a frontman to secretly buy the £50m Toprak mansion. It too has an indulgent Turkish bath. It too has seven bedrooms. And it too is located on The Bishops Avenue, just three doors down from the Ablyazovs, long since departed from understated Carlton House.

Want to buy citizenship? It helps if you're one of the super-rich

Malta has announced it is selling passports to foreign investors for £546,000, but that's cheap compared with other countries, such as Britain and the US.

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itizenship is like rhythm: if you weren't born with it, it's not easy to get. However, in the EU there is a fast-track for the super-rich. The Maltese government now has a scheme to attract "high-value" foreigners to the country, by selling passports for £546,000. Which, by passport standards, is pretty cheap.

The move has ruffled feathers in the UK. In part, because of worries about unchecked immigration; the passport grants its holders full EU citizenship, including freedom of movement (Maltese citizenship also come with a visa waiver on entry to the US). Labour's shadow immigration minister, David Hanson, told the Financial Times the move risked being "a backdoor route" to EU residence and was "not a tight or appropriate immigration policy". The government faces calls from British and European politicians to intervene and put a stop to the plan.

But the main reason the UK is annoyed is not because we worry foreign millionaires will come here to claim benefits. It is probably that Malta's scheme is more attractive than our own deal for super-rich settlers. The British equivalent, the Tier 1 (Investor) visa programme, assesses applicants on the basis of their ability "to invest £1,000,000 in the UK". Foreign investors who hold £10m of their money here can apply for permanent residence after two years living in the country. Compared to Malta's plan, it looks like a load of hassle.

About 20 countries operate similar systems. In the US, Immigrant Investor Visasare awarded to foreign nationals who invest $1m in the economy and create 10 full-time jobs for US citizens within two years of arrival. Those who do so are awarded permanent residence and, after three more years, can apply for full citizenship. In the Canadian province of Quebec, "Immigrant Investors" must invest $800,000 CAN (£457,000) in an interest-free, five-year bond and show at least two years of proven management experience. (Canada suspended its nationwide immigrant investor programme in July 2012 but Quebec's continues.)

The European schemes tend to be more lenient. Greece, Cyprus and Macedoniaoffer fast-track resident permits for foreign investors who spend a minimum of €250,000 to €400,000 (£210,000 to £335,000) in the country. Spain grants a residency visa to foreign buyers who spend €500,000 (£418,000) or more on Spanish property, though the wait for permanent residency and EU citizenship is five years.

The major beneficiaries of such schemes are the Chinese global rich. Since October last yea, 318 residence permits have been issued in Portugal to foreign property buyers who spent over €500,000. Of these, 248 went to Chinese nationals; 15 went to Russians, and nine each to Angolans and Brazilians.

The Maltese system may be the most open of the lot: its applicants do not need to be resident in the country, and are not expected to prove any further investment in the islands' economy. It is expected to attract around 40 people in its first year, rising to 300 a year from 2014.

But their stay may be short-lived. Polls show 53% of Maltese oppose the move, and the opposition leader, Simon Busutil of the Nationalist Party, has pledged to revoke the passports if returned to power. In fairness to him, it won't be hard to expel citizens who have never actually lived there in the first place.

Diplomacy Canadian Style: New Identity and Canadian Passport for a Fugitive Mossad Agent

A new identity and a precious Canadian passport for a fugitive Mossad agent. A honeypot security officer working for Canadian immigration romancing an Iranian-Canadian businessman, and letting the cat out of the bag.

Who needs John le Carre? The smitten Canadian, Trina Kennedy, a senior national security investigator at Passport Canada, revealed to tall, dark and handsome Arian Azarbar that one of the 27 Mossad agents who assassinated Palestinian Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabouh in 2010 in Dubai had escaped to Canada, where he was living under a new name, as free as a Canada goose.

It is the perfect occasion for one of Iran’s many talented film directors to turn to the world of international espionage. Poor Iran certainly has been exposed to enough of it since its revolution in 1979, though you wouldn’t know it from reading the news or watching Hollywood movies.

351090_Harper and Bibi.jpg

he most well-known instance of Iran as the West’s cultural bête noire is “Argo”, Hollywood’s Best Picture in 2012, a tendentious retelling of the Canadian ambassador’s plot to help six American diplomats escape arrest in 1980 by issuing them with—surprise!—false Canadian passports. (The film’s inaccuracies compelled the Canadian diplomat involved, Ken Taylor, to make a documentary “Our Man in Tehran” the next year politely correcting the exaggerated role given the CIA and other egregious inaccuracies.)

What about the view that perhaps a touch of revenge by very angry Iranians against the US after decades of intrigue and subterfuge might have been in order? Intrigue that went into high gear after the Iranian revolution, as documents from the US embassy published by the Iranian government in the 1980s revealed. In defence of the angry young Iranian occupiers, the women and Afro-Americans were released immediately, and no American died or was tortured during the siege or ‘rendered’.

As relations between Iran and the US improve, it is perhaps best to let sleeping dogs lie. So a revisionist “Argo” is not likely in the near future. However, we can still fantasize a “Back to the Future”, given the latest intrigue involving Israeli, Canadian and Iranian spies, a love nest, and those false Canadian passports.

Our post-Hollywood script is a who-dunnit featuring Sam Spade, cynical private detective, willing to follow the trail of the most nefarious suspects. He notes there have been quite a few strange coincidences in Canadian-Israeli-Iranian relations since Conservative Steven Harper’s election in 2006 and the signing of a Canadian-Israeli public security cooperation “partnership” in 2008.

Sam is puzzled by the unprecedented barring of a British MP George Galloway in 2009, during his North American speaking tour to bring attention to the plight of the besieged Palestinians. At the forefront of the campaign to prevent Galloway from entering Canada was the Jewish Defence League (JDL).

Digging a bit deeper, Sam discovers that in 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli member of the JDL, opened fire on Muslims praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron, killing 29 worshippers and injuring 125 before he ran out of ammunition and was himself killed. That the JDL called the incident a “preventative measure against yet another Arab attack on Jews” and noted that they “do not consider his assault to qualify under the label of terrorism”.

That the FBI nonetheless condemned the JDL in 2001 as a “violent extremist Jewish organization”, just prior to 9/11, and that JDL Canada disappeared under the radar after 9/11, but came alive again in 2006 with the arrival in Ottawa of  … Stephen Harper.

Fast forward to November 2012, when unceasing Israeli demands for an invasion of Iran reached a frenzied peak , with the breaking of diplomatic relations with Tehran by Ottawa, a few hours before “Argo” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Sam smells a rat.

The over-the-top Canadian parliamentary junket to Israel in January 2014 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Among the 208 Canadians who travelled with the PM were 77 Conservative donors, 21 rabbis, a handful of influential evangelical Christians, 32 registered lobbyists and … JDL Canada’s ‘event co-ordinator’ Julius Suraski.

‘How did a member of an organization labeled “violent extremist” by the FBI get on this junket?’ Sam ponders. Explains JDL Canada head Meir Weinstein, “Julius knows some people in the Conservative party.” Oh really?

Could JDL’s ‘event co-ordinator’ Suraski have anything to do with banning Galloway in 2009 as a “security risk”, the decision to cut diplomatic relations with Iran, or helping an accused assassin get a new Canadian identity?

Could it be that JDL Canada is the real security risk? After all, there’s that FBI ruling in 2001, and in 2011, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police launched an investigation against at least nine members of JDL Canada accused of plotting to bomb Palestine House in Mississauga.

Even the ultra-Zionist Canadian Jewish Congress is not big on ‘events’ organized by JDL Canada, such as their “support rally” in 2011 for the neofascist English Defence League at the Toronto Zionist Center. CJC leader Bernie Farber said he was “disappointed” and accused the EDL of “violence and extremism”. Hmmm. Think: FBI on the JDL.

An ‘event’ Suraski ‘co-ordinated’ last year was a Toronto speech by American Pamela Geller, founder of Stop Islamization of America, who was earlier prevented from entering the UK to address a rally of the same EDL. The British government ruled that her presence in the UK would “not be conducive to the public good”.

JDL Canada’s latest ‘event’ is to block the building of a seniors’ home for Muslims in Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto. A potential terrorist cell?

So is Suraski the bad guy here? But, surely Harper can have any friends he wants. Any advice Suraski whispers in Harper’s ear is, after all, strictly unofficial. In search of official ne’er-do-wells, our redoubtable Sam decides to look at a prominent official, Eden Attias, appointed as Canada’s first Israel military attaché in 2012.

Attias was intimately involved in both the invasion of Gaza in 2008 and the assault on the Turkish boat Mavi Marmara in 2010 in which nine Turkish citizens bringing aid to besieged Gaza were killed by Israeli troops. Attias’s actions were condemned by a group of remorseful ex-Israeli Defense Force members, and Turkish investigators charged him with murder.

When Attias arrived in Ottawa, freshly promoted, he remarked: “Israelis are starting to understand that Canada is a separate entity from the US.” Sounds good. Appeal to Canadian nationalism. But it seems what he really meant was: “The Canadian government is now a total Israeli patsy, unlike the US government, which would not countenance issuing false passports to our agents on demand. Thank you, little brother.”

Later, with his eye on Harper, Attias made this subtext clear at a public ecumenical prayer gathering in Ottawa, where he said, “On behalf of all the people of Israel, I would like to extend a sincere appreciation to you, the Evangelist community here in Canada for supporting Israel.”

Who dunnit? Who is responsible for this string of humiliating , criminal coincidences, for dragging Canada through the diplomatic mud? Banning a British MP, breaking diplomatic relations with a peaceful state, issuing a fugitive Mossad assassin a new identity on a shiny new Canadian passport? Suraski? Attias? How about Harper?

Passports for Sale-CBS

Steve Kroft reports on how cash-starved countries offer citizenship for a price, creating ways to ease travel for foreigners, including those running from the law

If you have been thinking about leaving the United States, moving to another country and changing your nationality, it's never been easier to do. In this era of globalization, citizenship and passports have become just another commodity to be bought and sold on the international market. All you need is money and a willingness to contribute a few hundred thousand dollars to the treasury of a cash-starved country or acquire a piece of real estate there.

It's called citizenship by investment and, as we first reported in January, it's become a $2 billion industry built around people looking for a change of scenery or a change of passport, a new life or maybe a new identity, a getaway from the rat race, or perhaps an escape from an ex-spouse or Interpol. In any event, it's brought in huge amounts of revenue for the sellers and attracted among the buyers a rogue's gallery of scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse.

If you're shopping for another passport, the top of the line right now is Malta. By investing a million dollars in this Mediterranean island, a Russian or Chinese or a Saudi can become a European citizen with a new EU passport that will allow them to travel just about anywhere without a visa. There are also much cheaper, less discriminating alternatives available in the Caribbean, especially on the tiny island of Dominica, where Lennox Linton is a member of Parliament.

60 Minutes' Steve Kroft, left, and Chris Kalin, chairman of Henley and Partners  CBS NEWS

60 Minutes' Steve Kroft, left, and Chris Kalin, chairman of Henley and Partners CBS NEWS

Steve Kroft: How much does it cost to get a citizenship?

Lennox Linton: $100,000.

Steve Kroft: Do you have to come and live in Dominica?

Lennox Linton: No. No. You don't even have to come to Dominica to get the citizenship. You pay the money from wherever you are.

Steve Kroft: Sorta just mail order citizenship?

Lennox Linton: Sort of. Something like that.

Our introduction to this world of citizenship by investment came in Dubai – the gleaming, international bazaar – that was hosting the 9th annual global citizenship conference. Gathered here were government officials, lawyers, bankers, and real estate developers who facilitate and profit from the trade of citizenship for cash.

Chris Kalin: Good evening, and a very warm welcome…

This is the man who more or less invented the business: Chris Kalin, chairman of Henley and Partners, a consulting firm with offices, where else, but in Zurich, Switzerland. For a fee and healthy commissions, Kalin helps countries set up their program, rewrite their citizenship laws, and recruit people of means looking for a second, third, or fourth passport, which he sees as just another travel accessory; a passport of convenience.

Chris Kalin: You probably have more than one credit card, I would assume. And, you know, if Visa doesn't work, Mastercard will do. So I think any wealthy person nowadays should have more than one credit card. And likewise, you'd have more than one passport.

Steve Kroft: But you need to have some money to do this?

Chris Kalin: Yes.

Steve Kroft: To be able to do this?

Chris Kalin: Yes, absolutely. It's just for wealthy people, of course, yeah.

Quite often these wealthy customers come from politically problematic countries where their passports don't work very well, making it difficult for them to get where they want to go. Global citizens like international lawyer Sirous Motevassel, a Middle Easterner from Iran who travels on a West Indian passport from St. Kitts and Nevis.

Steve Kroft: And where do you live?

Sirious Motevassel: I'm living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Steve Kroft: So you're an Iranian living in Dubai with St. Kitts citizenship.

Sirious Motevassel: Yes. Yeah.

Steve Kroft: That's complicated.

Sirious Motevassel: Yeah. It, yeah. This is the life.

It's the life, because Motevassel's St. Kitts passport, available for $250,000 or a $400,000 real estate investment, allows him entry to more than 100 countries without having to get special permission. It's a legal way to circumvent visa controls that nations set up to screen people coming into their country. But it's also an opportunity for shady characters to mask their true identities, and avoid suspicion as they travel around the globe.

The business was born here in St. Kitts when Chris Kalin struck a deal with the government a decade ago following the collapse of the islands' sugar industry.Since then, passports have become its major export, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in income. In fact in 2014, the last year for which there are government statistics available, 40 percent of the government's revenue came from selling passports.

It's provided St. Kitts and Nevis with hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects, private development, and tourism but a lot of the money is unaccounted for. More than 10,000 people have purchased citizenship here, but it's almost impossible to tell who they are because the information is not public. Chris Kalin doesn't like the words citizenship for cash, or any suggestion that all you need is money to get a passport.

Chris Kalin: You have to go through a process. You have to apply. And you have to answer a million questions. And you have to undergo a background verification. And you have, at least in the properly run programs, you have to be a reputable person. And that's checked.

But evidently, not that carefully. About the only way to identify people who have purchased St. Kitts citizenship is if they've happened to turn up on a list of international fugitives or gotten in trouble with the law, and St. Kitts and Nevis has had more than its share for two sleepy, little islands. Its passport holders have included a Canadian penny stock manipulator… a Russian wanted for bribery… a Kazak wanted for embezzlement… two Ukrainians suspected of bribing a U.N. official… and two Chinese women wanted for financial crimes.

Chris Kalin: I think it's no secret that these islands have made decisions that are not always optimal.

Steve Kroft: They've taken some bozos, as you would call them?

Chris Kalin: Yes, exactly.

Steve Kroft: What about crooks?

Chris Kalin: Yes. It's goes all the way down to crooks, yeah, absolutely. And it tended for some time to attract quite a few people that I would never let into the country. But I'm not the government of St. Kitts and Nevis. 

Steve Kroft: But you set up their program.

Chris Kalin: We helped to set up the program. But, you know, as it is, advisers advise, ministers decide.

The island nation drew the ire of the U.S. Treasury Department three years ago after three suspected Iranian operatives were caught using their St. Kitts passports to launder money for banks in Tehran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also had to recall more than 5,000 passports because they either didn't include a place of birth or were issued to people who had changed their names. Since then a number of reforms have been made, but questions remain.

Peter Vincent: They're not transparent programs. There are not safeguards in place.

Until 2014, Peter Vincent was the top legal adviser for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the department of Homeland Security, which he says is well aware of all the vulnerabilities. In fact, before General John F. Kelly became secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, he expressed concern in a 2015 report that "cash for passport programs could be exploited by criminals, terrorists or other nefarious actors."

Steve Kroft: Does that present a security threat, do you think?

Peter Vincent: It does. In my opinion, the global community has established a very effective global security architecture to prevent terrorist attacks. I see these cash for citizenship programs as a gaping hole in that security architecture.

Government of Antigua and Barbuda's Citizenship by Investment Unit  CBS NEWS

Government of Antigua and Barbuda's Citizenship by Investment Unit CBS NEWS

But it's not stopped the programs from multiplying across the Caribbean…Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Antigua are all competing with St. Kitts now for customers and badly needed cash.

Gaston Browne: So what are we supposed to do? Sit back and do nothing? You tell me.

Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, says the revenue from its four-year-old program has kept the government from defaulting on its international loans and has turned the economy around. Antigua also claims to have among the strictest programs in the Caribbean. You actually have to show up here to get citizenship, albeit very briefly.

Gaston Browne: Our law provides them to spend at least five days here.

Steve Kroft: That sounds like a vacation.

Gaston Browne: Yes. I understand. But however, we have made sure that at least there must be some face-to-face contact so we know who these people are.

Steve Kroft: For five days.

Gaston Browne: Minimum.

Steve Kroft: What kinda people are you looking for?

Gaston Browne: We're lookin' for high net worth individuals. People who are established business people. Who are well-known. And to make sure that we get the crème de la crème.

If so, they are recruiting them in some odd places. Last summer, Antigua announced it was opening an embassy in Baghdad hoping to sell passports to Iraqis. It didn't work out. But it's doing better next door in Syria after hiring a relative of President Bashar Al-Assad to represent them.

Steve Kroft: Have you had any applications from Syria?

Gaston Browne: Yes. We have had applications from Syria.

Steve Kroft: And you've approved them.

Gaston Browne: Syria is one of the areas in which we have had some concerns but did not place it on a restricted list.

Prime Minister Browne told us instability breeds opportunity. Besides Syria, Antigua has sold citizenship to Iranians, Libyans, Pakistanis, and the people who brought condos in this half-built complex in the desert outside Dubai, 7,300 miles away from Antigua. Its website advertised, "Buy a villa in the UAE and get citizenship of Antigua."

Steve Kroft: I mean, you said that you were looking for the crème de la crème.

Gaston Browne: Crème de la crème.

Steve Kroft: I mean, there's a developer in Dubai.

Gaston Browne: Yes.

Steve Kroft: Sweet Homes.

Gaston Browne: Yes.

Steve Kroft: Who is advertising that he's giving away passports to anyone who buys a condominium there.

Gaston Browne: You don't believe that, right?

Steve Kroft: Like you open a bank account, you get a free toaster.

Gaston Browne: That is not so.

Browne dismissed the sweet homes ads as advertising hype, saying the citizenship is not free or guaranteed. Somebody has to come up with $250,000 for Antigua and condo buyers must pass a background check.

Gaston Browne: You have to go through all of the due diligence.

Steve Kroft: What kinda due diligence do you do?

Gaston Browne: Well, and that is where the crux of the matter lies.

A diplomatic passport from Dominica  CBS NEWS

A diplomatic passport from Dominica CBS NEWS

The prime minister claimed that the names of all applicants for Antiguan citizenship are screened by American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and generally speaking due diligence in the Caribbean has improved substantially since the scandals in St. Kitts. The small island offices with a few people are now backed up by international firms that take the screening to a higher level. But ultimately it's up to each country to decide who gets a passport, and the Caribbean has a rich history of turning a blind eye to official corruption. It's affected the way the way passports are handed out, especially diplomatic passports, that entitle the bearer to all sorts of special privileges, which Peter Vincent says represents a much more serious security threat.

Peter Vincent: The border officials at the receiving country, even without a visa, almost always admit an individual carrying a diplomatic passport. In addition, border forces are not entitled to search the luggage of diplomats like they are for regular tourists. They simply wave them through.

The sale of diplomatic passports is not part of the citizenship by investment program, but it's gone on under the table, according to U.S. authorities, in places like Dominica, which has had a lot of dodgy diplomats.

Lennox Linton: We had a diplomatic passport in the hands of Francesco Corallo, who, at the time, was on INTERPOL's list of most-wanted criminals.

Lennox Linton, who heads the opposition in Parliament, says no one in Dominica had ever heard of Corallo until he was stopped by authorities in Italy.

Lennox Linton: He said, "You can't detain me. I'm a diplomat." They said, "Diplomat? Diplomat of where?" He said, "Dominica."

Then there's Dominican diplomat Alison Madueke, a former Nigerian oil minister charged with bribery and money laundering. And Rudolph King, a Bahamian fugitive from U.S. justice, who presented himself as Dominica's special envoy to Bahrain.

Lennox Linton: What we were doing with an ambassador in Bahrain, I don't quite know. But they seem to think that there was some benefit in there for us.

Steve Kroft: I assume that you've asked the prime minister…

Lennox Linton: Yes.

Steve Kroft: How he ended up appointing these people, diplomats.

Lennox Linton: Yes.

Steve Kroft: And what was the answer?

Lennox Linton: The prime minister doesn't answer those questions.

With vast sums of money flowing into these island nations, and more and more countries selling their citizenship, there is consensus that still more oversight and transparency is needed. But privacy and secrecy have always been a major selling point for people buying multiple passports, including Chris Kalin, the man who invented the business plan.

Steve Kroft: How many do you have?

Chris Kalin: I have multiple.

Steve Kroft: So you don't wanna tell us how many you have?

Chris Kalin: There's a few things in my life that, that I don't talk openly about. And I keep for myself. But I am Swiss originally and many people think I'm very Swiss and so I'll leave it at that.

Our report in January sparked a flurry of reaction in the Caribbean. In Dominica, there were riots demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit for his handling of diplomatic passports. He denies any improprieties. The St. Kitts government deactivated more than 15,000 passports, including 91 diplomatic passports. And Antigua's program -- singled out by the U.S. State Department as "among the most lax in the world" -- has also recalled many of its diplomatic passports.

Produced by Graham Messick and Evie Salomon.