The European Commission has proposed suspending visa-free travel for Pacific country Vanuatu because of a citizenship by investment scheme, similar to the one Albania wanted to introduce.
While the Commission has long disapproved of the schemes over fears of money laundering, sanctions evading, and other abuses, this is the first time the EU has moved to impose sanctions on a country for running such a scheme.
“The Commission has concluded that Vanuatu’s investor citizenship schemes present serious deficiencies and security failures,” it said in a statement.
Under the Vanuatu scheme, in return for $130,000 individuals can get a passport that gives them visa-free access to the EU. The Commission, in its proposal, has suggested suspending visa-free travel for anyone holding a Vanuatu passport since May 2015, when the scheme was launched.
The Commission raised concerns because there were instances where new citizens were not screened properly, even including some who appeared on Interpol lists. In turn, these individuals can enter the EU with no checks and controls.
Additionally, the Commission said it was keeping an eye on countries that enjoy visa-free travel to the EU, and either has, or are considering similar schemes. This includes Albania.
In November 2019, Exit revealed how Prime Minister Edi Rama, while knowing full well the EU and EC would not agree, said he would start selling Albanian citizenship to wealthy investors.
He attended the Global Citizenship Conference in London, and a video seen by Exit from the private event, saw him make the announcement while making jokes about the country’s isolation during communism.
During his speech, Rama said, “I know there are controversies around this program,” adding, “I know that when I get back home I will receive an alert from the European Union about this, but I strongly believe this is what we have to do.”
During Rama’s speech, he joked that “once upon a time we were proud to be the only country in the world not to allow anyone to enter or to get out” and made several jokes about communism and various dictators. He claimed that Albania has the highest growth in the region and that despite it being “risky” it is something that “we have to do.”
The event was organised by Henley and Partners, cash for passports concessionaires that have created and administrated several such schemes around the world.
The EU reacted strongly to the news and no more has been heard about the plan.
Exit also revealed last year that the fugitive Indian Sandesara brothers, accused of embezzlement in India, received Albanian citizenship in mysterious circumstances in 2018.
They had previously been clients of Henley and Partners and had tried to acquire citizenship in other countries before settling on Albanian.
The brothers were declared wanted by Indian authorities in 2017 over suspicions they were responsible for defrauding banks of almost $1 billion. Interpol red notices were issued in their names and extradition orders were allegedly filed by the Indian government in Nigeria and Albania.
In November 2016, they engaged Henley and Partners, an international cash-for-passports concessionaire to do background checks on them, as confirmed by the existence of a large selection of documents. Both brothers then attempted to apply for various passports including Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada, and Cyprus.
Documents seen by Exit news that include invoices, payments, retainers, correspondence, and due diligence documents, show that this relationship continued until at least September 2017.
They were unsuccessful in their attempts to get any citizenship, most likely due to the bad press around the fraud, and the extradition orders against them.
Then in February and March 2017, Henley and Partners executives visited Albania on two occasions. Firstly, Steffen Juerg, Group CEO, visited on 3 February, and then Stefan Krauss COO on 27 February. It’s not known what the purpose of their visit was.
Then in late 2018, the Sandesaras were granted Albanian citizenship while being officially on the run. This happened without any due process or adherence to rules. Furthermore, it should not have been possible considering the warrants against them.
The brothers pledged to invest at least $33 million into real estate development including apartments near the Artificial Lake, and other property in Dhermi.
Henley and Partners strenuously deny that they acquired any citizenship for the Sandesara brothers, you can read their full statement here.