By DAN BILEFSKY JAN. 31, 2014
PARIS — Having been besieged by the Ottomans, and ruled over the centuries by foreign invaders from the Greeks to the Romans to Napoleon, the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta has seen plenty of unwelcome interlopers.
But now, it seems, these foreigners are quite welcome — if they are willing to hand over 1.15 million euros, or $1.55 million, to buy a Maltese passport.
Motivated in part by economic stress, and in part by what some call crass opportunism, the idyllic island 50 miles south of Sicily is selling citizenship for $880,000 in cash and $677,000 in property and investments to applicants 18 or older willing to pay the price. …
Being a citizen of Malta, which is part of the European Union’s passport-free zone, will confer the right to travel among the union’s 27 other member states without border formalities. A newly minted Maltese citizen will also be able to live and work in another European Union country, and will gain the right to visa-free travel to 69 non-European Union countries, including the United States.
Critics accuse the government of pawning the national birthright. So far, those said to be interested in the passports include a former Formula 1 champion, a Chinese billionaire, an international pop star, a member of a prominent Persian Gulf royal family, an American press magnate and a South American soccer player, according to The Times of Malta, a daily newspaper.
While all European Union countries have the right to peddle citizenship to whomever they want, the practice is relatively rare and the union’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, expressed dismay last month, telling the Maltese that European citizenship “must not be up for sale.”
Others fear that the proud and picturesque island — with 411,277 citizens, one of the world’s most densely populated countries — risks following in the footsteps of fellow European Union member Cyprus, which has come under criticism for attracting tycoons looking for a convenient place, preferably one with sun and sand, to protect their assets from tax collectors.
Under pressure from European Union officials in Brussels, Malta this week agreed to require foreigners seeking to buy Maltese passports to be residents for at least one year. It has also vowed to carefully vet applicants. Yet initial plans to limit to 1,800 the number of passports granted have been scrapped.
For all the fuss and red-faced reprimands of Brussels bureaucrats, Malta is just one of several countries seeking to woo rich foreigners by offering residency or citizenship.
Cyprus recently slashed the amount of investment required to be eligible for citizenship, to $4.06 million from $13.5 million. …
In contrast, the United States hands out EB-5 visas to investors who pay zilch to the government, and just invest $500,000 (in “targeted” areas) or $1,000,000 anywhere in businesses, typically construction projects. While Maltese taxpayers get $880,000, American taxpayers get nothing.