Saturday

22nd Jan 2022

Buying an EU passport 'no use for evading sanctions'

  • Terrorism was almost the only reason for which EU nationals have been listed in the past (Photo: johnnyalive)

Buying an EU passport does not give you impunity from visa-bans or asset-freezes, officials have said, as citizenship sales multiply.

Terrorism, rather than politics, was almost the only reason for which EU nationals were blacklisted in the past, however.

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"In the case of travel bans, it means that the person cannot travel to a country other than the one of his nationality (as s/he cannot be refused entry on the territory of the country of his/her nationality)," an EU official told EUobserver.

"If a European citizen is subject to restrictive measures such as an asset-freeze, then the blocking of bank accounts and other assets should be ensured by all the 27 EU member states," the official added.

"They should also make sure that economic resources are not made available to entities controlled by listed persons," the official said.

The net result was that if a Russian man, for instance, bought a Cypriot passport and then fell under EU sanctions, he would be allowed to go in and out of Cyprus, but not the rest of the EU.

And Cyprus would still be obliged to freeze his money or to stop it going to his relatives or companies.

The clarification came after the Al Jazeera news agency recently reported that Cyprus had sold hundreds of passports to 'politically exposed' persons from Russia and the Middle East.

Malta has also been selling passports en masse to Russian tycoons.

And Valletta's authorities recorded a spike in Russian applications after 2014 - when the EU first began blacklisting Russians due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the number of EU sanctions is likely to proliferate in future, after the bloc recently agreed a new regime for cyber criminals and abusers of chemical weapons.

It is also in talks on listing egregious human rights abusers worldwide.

The EU system was already tested in one well-known case in 2011 in Cyprus.

Cyprus had sold EU nationality to Rami Makhlouf, a Syrian oligarch in January of that year. Just two months later, the EU blacklisted him over Syrian regime atrocities.

Cyprus did not disclose if it froze Makhlouf's assets, but Nicosia revoked his citizenship in 2012.

Meanwhile, EU officials noted that member states already had experience of imposing sanctions on EU nationals under the bloc's counter-terrorism register.

A scroll through the EU database showed it had listed nine French nationals, six Germans, and one Swede on grounds of membership in extremist Islamist groups.

It also listed 10 British nationals at a time when the UK was still part of the EU.

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The European Commission has described the sale of EU citizenship by Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta as a "golden gate to Europe" for the rich. Unable to stop it, the commission now wants an expert group to probe the schemes.

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Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

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