Thursday

7th Jul 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

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.

Opinion

Romania — latest EU hotspot in backlash against LGBT rights

Romania isn't the only country portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as a threat to children. From Poland and Hungary in EU, to reactionary movements around the world are prohibiting portrayals of LGBT people and families in schools.

News in Brief

  1. British PM defiant amid spate of resignations
  2. France says EU fiscal discipline rules 'obsolete'
  3. Russia claims untouchable status due to nuclear arsenal
  4. Catalan MEPs lose EU court case over recognition
  5. 39 arrested in migrant-smuggling dragnet
  6. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  7. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  8. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Is Orban holding out an olive branch to EPP?
  2. EU should freeze all EU funds to Hungary, says study
  3. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  4. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  5. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  6. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  7. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  8. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us