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Golden Passports, Citizenship For Sale From Cyprus To The Caribbean

Pick your passport
Pick your passport
Grigory Kolganov

MOSCOW — ​Last month, the Interior Minister of Cyprus Constantinos Petrides announced the revocation of 26 "citizenships by investment" that had been granted before stricter criteria of this program was introduced in 2018. Though Petrides refused to name those who had lost their so-called "golden passports', Kommersant has recently revealed some of the names on the list, including Russian oligarchs Oleg Deripaska, Vladimir Stolyarenko, Alexander Bondarenko, along with their respective wives and children. These oligarchs are under criminal investigations in their homeland.

The news is a reminder that this particular relationship is not an exclusive privilege of Cyprus, and Russians are hardly the only ones seeking out golden passports.

What is Citizenship By Investment (CBI)? Also known as economic citizenship, CBI is the legal process where a country allows individuals to essentially buy their citizenship, where the passport is given in exchange for a monetary contribution — usually referred to as an "investment" in the host country. The program was introduced in 1984 by the Caribbean island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, which still offers the option. Today CBI programs are also available in several other Caribbean countries, along with Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cyprus, Malta and Vanuatu. Last year Jordan, Montenegro and Turkey announced their plans to launch CBI programs.

Brussels does not like the program.

The investment requirements (i.e., price) differ from country to country, often rising well above $100,000, and are subject to constant changes and numerous regulations. In the capital of Nicosia, came the report that nine Russians lost their passports, which Cypriot officials believe were acquired illegally. But nine citizens is a drop in the ocean. Only in the year before last, 1,300 Russians got passports from Cyprus, which is a member-state of the European Union and enjoys famously low tax rates.

The program was introduced in 2014 to support the economy that was then in a deep recession. By the end of 2018, about 4,000 passports had been issued to third-country nationals. In exchange, Cyprus' budget received about 7 billion euros. But Brussels has repeatedly hinted to Nicosia that it does not like the program, which can be used to launder money and undermine the EU's security.

Several high-profile stories have forced Cyprus' hand. In addition to revoking citizenship, Cyprus is discussing the possibility of disclosing the names of all foreigners who have received citizenships-by-investment. Every August, the Professional Wealth Management magazine by Financial Times publishes an annual ranking, the CBI Index report, analyzing key features of CBI countries like freedom of movement, the standard of living, minimum investment outlay, mandatory travel or residence, citizenship timeline, ease of processing, and due diligence.

Russian President Putin with oligarch Oleg Deripaska in 2002 — Photo: Kremlin.ru

Unlike actual citizenship, as Cyprus demonstrates, CBI can be revoked by decree of the state. The revocation reasons are the same as some of the application reasons: criminal procedures, business and/or tax frauds. Of course, during the application procedures, subjects must prove they are of good character. But many things can be hidden behind the stacks of money.

This year Cyprus increased its investment requirements introducing two additional 75,000-euro donations either in socioeconomic initiatives supporting the building of affordable homes or to the Research and Innovation Foundation. Above that, applicants must purchase real estate valued at €500,000, and choose one of four 2-million-euro investment options.

Many things can be hidden behind the stacks of money.

The are various alternatives to Cyprus, and according to this year's report, the Caribbean remains the most attractive and least expensive, with the island nation of Dominica offering two investment opportunities: a one-time contribution to the Economic Diversification Fund ($100,000 for a single applicant), or an investment in Government-approved real estate (at least $200,000 + a $25,000 real estate Government Fee). In the case of Dominica, the money is meant for sustainable housing, agricultural sector, and the reconstruction of key infrastructure. Application processing takes between 45 and 60 days. There are no interviews, travel, or residence requirements, no need not learn English, show a minimum level of education or business experience.

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