Allen Chastanet, the prime minister of the Caribbean island of St Lucia, told about 300 members of the super-rich elite and their advisers gathered at the Rosewood hotel for “global citizenship conference” that his country’s economic mission was “going after high net-worth individuals and giving them a comfortable place to live”.
He promised that in return for a $100,000 (£78,000) “contribution to the national economic fund” applicants would be granted St Lucian citizenship within three months. With it comes a so-called “golden passport” giving visa-free travel to 145 countries, including the UK, the European Union’s Schengen Area, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Chastanet said there was no requirement for the country’s rich new citizens to actually live on the island, as long as they paid the money to the St Lucia development fund and bought a home in the country.
“St Lucia is modernising itself, and going to be making itself competitive on a global basis,” he said. “And it’s looking for new citizens that want to take advantage of what St Lucia has to offer.”
Also selling citizenships at the conference were the prime ministers of Albania and Montenegro, a Maltese minister, an ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, and representatives from Cyprus.
Cyprus, which asks for an investment of at least €2m (£1.7m), gave citizenship to Jho Low, the fugitive Malaysian businessman at the centre of the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal. The island nation, which as a member of the EU thereby gives its new citizens access to the rest of the bloc. Cyprus has made about €6bn issuing about 4,000 passports since the scheme was introduced in 2013.
Malta, which is also an EU member state, has sold citizenship to five people charged with criminal offences overseas. They include Anatoly Hurgin, an Israeli citizen charged by the US and Israeli authorities with fraud, smuggling and money-laundering.
Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania and Duško Marković, the prime minister of Montenegro.
Rama launched Albania’s citizenship-by-investment programme at the conference promising a “10-year tax holiday”. He reminded delegates that Albania was an official candidate for accession to the European Union, which would give new Albanian citizens the right to live and work across the bloc.
Marković said he was offering 2,000 people Montenegrin citizenship in return for a €100,000 contribution to government coffers, and a property investment of at least €250,000.
The conference featured a keynote address by the former CIA director David Petraeus, and was compered by Nils Blythe, a former BBC business correspondent and ex-head of communications at the Bank of England.
The three-day event, which cost £1,500 a ticket, was organised by Henley & Partners, a London-based firm that acts as matchmaker between the super-rich and countries selling their citizenships. Henley has made tens of millions of dollars in commission from selling citizenship. The trade is legal;
Ben Cowdock, a researcher at the anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International UK, said: “There is a growing body of evidence that corrupt elites use ‘Golden Visas’ to gain residency and citizenship across Europe. Selling a fast track to citizenship has dubious economic benefits, whilst providing an open door to those with deep pockets and a past to hide. There are serious questions whether pawning residency and citizenship should be allowed to continue.”