By Tim Suereth
In the ever escalating sanctions war the West is waging against Russia, it is becoming much more difficult for oligarchs to enjoy their wealth. Traveling to America is now restricted for many of Russia’s richest families – except maybe for those who buy European Union citizenship through the medieval Mediterranean island of Malta.
Congress, began ramping up sanctions against the Russian Federation in 2012 with the Magnitsky Act, to put pressure on people who were committing human rights abuses. Russia immediately responded by restricting the ability of Americans to adopt Russian born babies (the pretext for the Trump Jr./Natalia Veselnitskaya meeting).
Sanctions were added by the Obama administration in 2014 in response to Russian activities in Ukraine and Crimea, and then they were strengthened several more times in 2016 and also in 2017 to punish Putin and his cronies for alleged cyberattacks and election meddling.
Among the harshest of all sanctions for wealthy Russians to endure has been losing their ability to travel freely to America and elsewhere around the world – but for only $1.5 million they could sidestep the restrictions.
Malta is a Mediterranean island paradise, situated just 60 miles south of Sicily. Due to it’s enviable geographic location in the middle of the Med., the tiny island nation of 400,000 people has been invaded more than almost any other country in the world. Now it is being inundated by Russian billionaires who might want to get around U.S. sanctions by buying E.U. citizenship, and possibly mask the identity of their real country of origin.
The island of Malta was given to the Knights of Malta, after their Jerusalem crusader conquests, by Roman emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII in 1530 to protect Rome from southern invaders. The knights built this fiefdom into an impenetrable fortress with lavish homes, and lifestyles to match, but when the knights were disbanded, they left Malta to return to their home countries and the island began a slow and gradual economic decline, maintaining itself and it’s inhabitants mainly from tourism until the government initiated the Identity Malta citizenship scheme in 2013, The Identity Malta citizenship program is estimated to add about $2.5 billion to the Malta budget – a whopping 25% of the nations total gross domestic product.
To qualify, an applicant must either rent an apartment or purchase property on the island, with the intention of keeping it for 5 years. In addition, they must purchase government bonds worth at least $183,000 and also pay a fee of almost $1.5 million. Once an applicant is approved, typically in 12 months, they will have easy access to travel all over the European Union, America and the rest of the world – as a citizen of Malta.
Applicants don’t even need to spend much time on the island to qualify. Only two trips to the island are necessary to get a passport. Malta attorney Mark George Hyzler said, “They come twice, once to get a residency card and once to get a passport.” In addition to all of the travel perks, Maltese citizenship comes with the lowest tax rate in the European Union. Instead of paying a 35% tax, as most locals must pay, foreigners who become citizens can qualify for a 5% tax rate.
Malta’s main source of revenue has depended, in the past, on wealthy individuals from around the world moving to the island to spend their money, build their mansions and enjoy all the best extravagances that money can buy. This Mediterranean island is now coming full circle, with a little help from the Russians.