Economy

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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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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