Yet, the couple of specific evidences of Dominica selling diplomatic passports to dubious individuals are just tip of the iceberg, as hundreds of induvial from around the world have succeeded in buying or getting diplomatic passports, mostly issued by the Caribbean island countries.
Despite the individuals listed above often appearing comical in their criminality, the abuse of diplomatic passports and the freedom they bring is far from funny. If the likes of corrupt arms dealers, international embezzlers and suspected drug traffickers are immune to prosecution, there’s something wrong. The fact that the rich and powerful can buy protection is shaping the world we live in. Global Witness campaigns to expose and break the systems by which they do this, making the world safer, fairer and more equal.
A grand opportunity for the criminals
For most people, a passport comes from being born in a country, having a parent from there, marrying a citizen or applying for naturalization. But for obtaining citizenship in any of the Caribbean island countries, the applicant does not need physical presence. S/he just needs to send the money and it is even not required that the required amount goes into the agent of the respective country through banking or official channels. These agents, for example, CS Global Partners, are ready to accept the amount even through illegal channels.
As information is appearing in the international media on serious discrepancies centering the CBI program, calls are made to scrap these schemes amid revelations that unknown number of crooks, criminals and even members of transnational mafia syndicate and Islamist terror groups have benefited from these nations in the recent years and evaded justice or stashed away hundreds of millions of dollars of embezzled funds. Most importantly, visa-free access in European nations for the holders of passports issued by Caribbean island countries poses a serious threat to national securities as members of Islamist jihadist groups can easily enter any of the European countries, including Britain by using their Caribbean passports.
Although those Caribbean island countries claim, they follow “due diligence” before selling citizenship to any applicant, there have been series of instances, where it was proved beyond doubt that an unknown number of criminals have managed a passport under CBI program from any of the Caribbean nations.
One of the most infamous fugitives in the world – Jho Low – the Malaysian financier behind the massive 1MDB scandal – now sought by three countries for corruption and money laundering had acquired Cypriot citizenship.
Mehul Choksi, an Indian diamond merchant sought by Interpol, gained Antigua and Barbuda nationality in 2017 shortly before being charged with bank fraud and avoided prosecution by fleeing to the island nation.
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled the country in 2006, did obtain a passport from Montenegro a few years after he was convicted in absentia of graft.
According to media reports, out of over 2,500 individuals who received a passport of the Cyprus Investment Program between 2017 and 2019, dozens faced serious criminal charges and had a prior conviction or were under international sanctions.
These included Mykola Zlochevsky, a Ukrainian energy tycoon and former minister wanted by Kyiv for corruption; Pham Nhat Vu, a Vietnamese businessman who was facing trial when his application was approved and is now in jail for bribery; Iranians Maleksabet Ebrahimi and his son Mehdi, both on Interpol’s wanted list for money laundering, fraud and counterfeiting; and Russian banking brothers Dmitry and Alexei Ananiev, who are accused in Russia of embezzlement and money laundering and are also under sanctions from Ukraine.
Similarly, a large number of individuals with criminal records were successful in buying Dominica’s citizenship, while at least dozens of them had managed to buy diplomatic passports simply by bribing Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica.
Golden passports have long been problematic, aside from the idea that the wealthy individuals can seemingly buy any passport they want – whereas common mortals go through years of applications and residence requirements. The OECD warned in 2018 that CBI schemes “can create the potential for misuse as tools to hide assets held abroad”.
Canada revoked visa-free travel for St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda over worries about their lax citizenship program.
But CBI schemes have been especially concerning to the European Union, where a passport from one member state allows free movement throughout all 27, providing a “back door” into other countries, often without their knowledge.
Investors may seek EU citizenship “for legitimate reasons, but may also be pursuing illegitimate ends, such as evading law enforcement investigation and prosecution in their home country and protecting their assets from freezing and confiscation measures,” the European Commission noted in a report last year.
It warned of security risks for the whole Union, including “the possibility of infiltration of non-EU organized crime groups, money laundering, corruption and tax evasion”.
For countries like Cyprus, Bulgaria, Moldova, Vanuatu or Dominica, investments represent a key source of revenue. Cyprus has reportedly made about 7 billion euros (8.26 billion US dollars) from its passport program since 2013. Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis’s CBI program have been said to contribute between 25 and 40 percent of GDP. Moreover, these programs are helping the corrupt political elites in those countries in making tons of money through the backdoor.
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