Tuesday

18th Sep 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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. EU investigating BMW, Daimler and VW 'collusion'
  2. Spain wants special Gibraltar chapter in Brexit deal
  3. Italy cancels Vienna talks over South Tyrol 'dual citizenship'
  4. Britain will not accept Brexit deal with Irish Sea border
  5. Slovakia seeks witness to journalist killing
  6. Finland's Stubb considers running for EU commission job
  7. Romania ponders anti same-sex marriage referendum
  8. EU lawyers back Slovenia in Croatia border dispute

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  2. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  3. New book: Why war is coming
  4. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  5. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful
  6. 10 years after Lehman Brothers what has changed for EU consumers?
  7. Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president
  8. Is Russia blackmailing the Council of Europe?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us