A controversial ‘Citizenship by Investment’ programme run by Pacific nation Vanuatu has become a way out for fugitives, high-profile former politicians and disgraced businesspeople from their home countries, according to a report by The Guardian. Vanuatu, an archipelago made up of roughly 80 islands in the South Pacific ocean, offers a so-called golden passport through a scheme that allows people to purchase citizenship for $130,000.
The Citizenship by Investment programme also enables the golden passport holders to gain visa-free access to 148 countries and territories, including the UK and the EU member states. Agencies have been marketing the citizenship scheme as “one of the fastest and simplest second passport options” available in the world, with processing time as low as 30 days.
The citizenship of Vanuatu can be obtained without ever setting foot in the country. Vanuatu also serves as a tax haven since the archipelago has no income tax, wealth tax, capital gains or inheritance tax. While the government has pitched the programme for applicants who must have a clear criminal record, The Guardian reported that the beneficiaries include “a slew of disgraced businesspeople and individuals sought by police in countries all over the world.”
According to the report, more than half of the passports issued under the scheme in 2020 were to Chinese nationals. The other recipients of the golden passport with the most common nationality were Nigerians, Russians, Lebanese, Iranians, Syrians, and Afghans, the report said. The controversial scheme has raised concern about the Pacific becoming a hub for trafficking drugs and money laundering.
Floyd Mera, the director of Vanuatu’s Financial Intelligence Unit, reportedly told The Guardian that most people flagged in the report have “allegations, pending investigations and ongoing court proceedings.” “If there are substantial convictions against any of these names, their citizenship may be revoked,” Mera was quoted by the English daily as saying.
The sale of passports has been a huge source of government revenue for Vanuatu, one of the poorest nations, and analysis by Investment Migration Insider suggests that the Pacific nation recorded a revenue of $132.6 million through the programme last year. Despite a raging pandemic, the revenue collected through citizenship by investment exceeded those raised in 2019, as per IMI analysis.