London ballroom hosts showcase event for 'golden passports'
Three prime ministers took to a stage in the ballroom of a five-star London hotel this week offering the world’s wealthiest people “golden passports” and citizenship of their countries in return for hundreds of thousands of pounds of investment or flat “contributions”.
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.
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.
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.
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, has said it will revoke Low’s citizenship and that of 25 other suspects to whom it has sold passports. Cyprus has made about €6bn issuing about 4,000 passports since the scheme was introduced in 2013.
While St Lucia is famed for its white sand beaches and azure seas, 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.”
Chastanet, who has served as prime minister of the former British colony since 2016, claimed many of the country’s new citizens were from the US. “When they’re traveling abroad, they don’t want to have a US passport,” he said.
Chastanet was joined on the ballroom stage in the Rosewood hotel, where rooms can cost more than £2,000 a night, by 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.
“I know that there are controversies around this type of programme,” Rama said. “At the same time I strongly believe this is the right way, and this is what we have to do …There are, of course, risks but we cannot deny to our country and our future the enormous potential of this programme.”
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 Montenegro government said individuals would only be granted citizenship following very thorough security checks.