Friday

20th Apr 2018

Russian elite flocks to buy Maltese passports

  • Malta has joined Cyprus as an EU haven for the Russian elite (Photo: Berit Watkin)

Russia's business elite are snapping up Maltese passports amid EU and US sanctions.

Those who forked out for Maltese and - by default - EU citizenship last year included Arkady Volozh, the founder of Yandex, a Russian Uber-type firm, and his entire family.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Muscat denied corruption allegations made by slain journalist Caruana Galizia (Photo: eu2017mt/Flickr)

They also included: Alexey Marey, the former CEO of Alfa Bank Russia, the country's largest private lender; Alexey De-Monderik, a co-founder of Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab; and Alexander Mechatin, the CEO of Beluga Group, Russia's largest private spirits company.

The newly-minted Maltese nationals emerged in a list of more than 2,000 names published in the country's legal gazette at the end of last year.

The gazette does not say who bought passports in 2016 and who was naturalised for other reasons.

But the names of wealthy foreign nationals stand out as the most likely to have paid the €1.1 million in fees, Maltese bond, and Maltese real estate investments that it costs to get nationality.

The Russian roll-call for 2016 went on to name: Dmitry Semenikhin (a media millionaire); Alexander Rubanov (energy firm executive); Roman Trushev (oil and gas); Andrey Gomon (transport magnate); Alexey Kirienko (investment broker); Dmitry Lipyavko (petroleum products tycoon); Andrei Melnikov (cobalt and uranium magnate); and Anatoly Loginov (owner of an online payment systems firm).

It also named Russian real estate developers, retailers, and agricultural land owners.

It came out after the previous gazette showed that 40 percent of new passport buyers in 2015 were also Russians.

Owning a Maltese passport gives people the right to visa-free travel to 160 countries, including the US, and to live and move around their money anywhere in the EU.

The surge in Russian applications comes after the EU and US imposed economic sanctions and visa-bans and asset-freezes on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

It also comes amid US plans to create a new blacklist on 29 January 2018 of cronies of Russian president Vladimir Putin over his meddling in the 2016 US election.

"The list of new citizens of Malta … has enough well-known Russian names to drive home an uncomfortable truth for the Kremlin: the Russian elite doesn't feel attached to Putin's besieged fortress project", Leonid Bershidsky, a Russia expert at the Bloomberg news agency, said on Thursday (11 January).

"They're not emigrating … but they are unwilling to put all their eggs in Putin's basket, which is a source of constant annoyance for him," Bershidsky said.

'Maltanistan'

The influx of Russians also poses questions on the quality of Maltese due diligence in rooting out fraudsters and other undesirables.

The Maltese government has fiercely denied criticism that it was turning the island into the kind of haven for illicit Russian money that Cyprus has become.

Cyprus, which also sells passports in return for a €2 million investment, issued 2,000 new ones in the past two years, almost half of which went to Russians.

A leaked German intelligence report said in 2012 that Russian criminals had stashed billions of euros in Cypriot banks, amid questions to what extent the financial ties shaped Cyprus' Russia-friendly foreign policy.

The Maltese scheme is cheaper than the Cypriot one and does not require new nationals to regularly visit Malta.

The issues came to the fore last October when a car bomb murdered a Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who claimed to have evidence that prime minister Joseph Muscat's chief-of-staff, Keith Schembri, was involved in laundering money from kickbacks by Russian passport applicants.

New EU elite

The 2016 list of new Maltese and EU citizens includes Leonid Korotkov, the former governor of a Siberian region whom Russian leader Vladimir Putin sacked for abuse of office.

It contains Igor Khudokormov and Leonid Levitin - two Russian offshore banking tycoons named in the so-called 'Panama Papers' leaks.

It also includes Ibrahim Waleed Alibrahim, a Saudi sheikh who was recently arrested on corruption charges, and Dragan Solak, a Serbian-Slovenian media magnate named in the so-called 'MaltaFiles' leak for having used a Maltese shell company to dodge taxes.

The Russian branch of Transparency International, an NGO, in a report out on Monday identified several shady Russian nationals who have settled in Malta.

It said the Maltese passport scheme had created "additional opportunities for corrupt officials".

"Such a scheme is attractive in that it allows laundering large sums of money … European banks consider holders of 'gold passports' as local residents, and not as suspicious foreigners. In fact, it is a question of reputation laundering," the NGO said.

See no evil

Muscat himself denied that Malta was being corrupted in an interview with the BBC also on Monday.

He said money laundering there was no greater a problem than it was in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, or the UK.

He also said he did nothing wrong in going to Dubai to promote the passport sales scheme in the same week last year as Caruana Galizia's assassination.

He dismissed her allegations about passport-sale kickbacks as being "false" and "dubious" social media "gossip".

"I'm in a quite horrible situation of having to criticise someone who was killed brutally," Muscat said.

Malta denies secrecy in 'Paradise Papers' leak

Malta's finance minister Edward Scicluna told reporters that the Maltese-based entities named in the latest tax avoidance leaks are all listed on a public register. "There was no secrecy whatsoever," he said.

Investigation

Malta's sale of EU passports causes controversy

A British consultancy will make millions for helping Malta to create EU citizens-on-paper, amid questions on conflict of interest and national security.

EU monitoring Cyprus passport sales

The European Commission has said it is in a "dialogue" with Cyprus amid concerns on loopholes in its passport sale scheme.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights