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EU takes Malta to court for 'golden passports'

September 29, 2022

Malta will take on the European Union for its scheme to give EU passports in exchange for investments. It is the last member state to still offer so-called golden passports.

Flags of Malta and the EU side by side
Malta has so far refused the EU's demands to stop offering passports in exchange for investmentsImage: Sachelle Babbar/Zuma/picture alliance

The European Commission said on Thursday that it was taking member state Malta to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for the country's "golden passports" program.

The program allows non-EU citizens to buy their way into full bloc citizenship rights  through investments.

"By offering citizenship in exchange for predetermined payments or investments, without a genuine link with the Member State concerned, Malta breaches EU law," EU Justice Affairs Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Twitter.

"European Union values are not for sale," he added.

How did Malta respond?

Should the ECJ rule against Malta, the country would have to comply or end up paying substantial fines.

A court case "gives Malta the opportunity to continue rebutting the said allegations and let the [ECJ] settle the matter," a statement from the Maltese government said.

The small island country stopped granting passports to Russian and Belarusian citizens following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine — something the European Commission called a "positive step."

But "Malta continues to operate the scheme for all other nationalities and has not expressed any intention to end it," the statement added.

According to the European Union, criminal gangs have taken advantage of the system to gain access to the EU and then engage in money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

Millions in investment

Malta was able to raise €1.1 billion ($1.1 billion) since 2013 by enticing investment in exchange for Maltese, and thus EU, passports.

Wealthy Russian and Chinese citizens have been major beneficiaries of the scheme.

Other member states Bulgaria and Cyprus have also come under pressure from Brussels for similar practices.

But both have since stopped, leaving Malta as the only member state still offering "golden passports," according to the European Commission.

Mediterranean journey - Malta

ab/jcg (AFP, dpa)