The European Commission is taking Malta to court over the controversial trade in passports that the country facilitates. The Commission announced this today.
Since 2014, foreign millionaires can be naturalized as Maltese for around 900,000 euros. For 25,000 euros each, partners and children can come along. Malta sold at least 2000 passports this way. It provided the small island with hundreds of millions of euros a year.
Malta not planning to stop
The trade could count on fierce criticism from home and abroad. Because anyone who buys in Malta also immediately becomes a citizen of the European Union and can travel to EU countries, start a business or open a bank account without a visa or strict controls.
Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, criticism grew, also from the American government. Because Russians with a Maltese passport are difficult or impossible to sanction. Russians who settle in the Netherlands with their Maltese passport, for example, are difficult to find. The same goes for bank accounts they open and companies they start.
In March Malta stopped selling to Russians and Belarussians. The EU wants the country to shut down all trade. But according to the Commission, “no intention has yet been expressed by Malta to end it”.
That is why the Commission is now referring the case to the European Court of Justice. According to Brussels, Malta is breaking EU rules by giving people Maltese nationality without any obligation to live in the country.
Malta itself denies that it is in violation. It is salient that the legal underpinning on which the country relies comes from the Groningen professor Dimitry Kochenov. He became discredited for his personal involvement in the passport trade and potential conflict of interest.
In addition to his professorship, Kochenov gave speeches at passport sales meetings and chaired a lobbying association of companies active in trade. After questions from news hour The University of Groningen, where Kochenov worked, started an investigation about this. The conclusions were critical, and not much later Kochenov left the university.
Nieuwsuur has been researching the trade for much longer. See here how we ended up at the University of Groningen:
The European Commission is not alone in its criticism of the passport trade. Intelligence service AIVD called the trade “worrying from the point of view of national security”. Agents of foreign powers could bypass security checks with a purchased EU passport.
After pressure from the EU and an American threat with punitive measures, other countries, including Cyprus and Bulgaria, did discontinue their passport programs.