President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola has urged European leaders to stop Malta and other countries from selling EU passports.

Dr Metsola was addressing her first EU emergency summit since being elected President in January, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Kremlin has long thought it could buy its way into Europe. It is time to close any loopholes, end the dangerous phenomenon of golden passports that provide a backdoor to European citizenship and ensure that Russian money does not become as critical as Russian gas. At the end of the day, this is how we achieve our strategic autonomy,” Dr Metsola said. 

Locally, pressure is also mounting on the Government to end the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), also known as the golden passports scheme.

Earlier this week, ADPD Chairman Carmel Cacopardo called for the scheme to be scrapped before the EU forced Malta’s hand.

When asked by journalists whether Malta should stop selling passports to Russian citizens, Prime Minister Robert Abela refused to give a direct answer, insisting that the IIP is robust and operates strong due diligence policies.

“Our rejection rate is very high. A strong percentage of applicants are refused citizenship, and that proves how robust the programme is,” he said, while emphasising that the IIP generates substantial revenue for Malta.

While there are concerns that the IIP could be a way for Russian citizens to avoid sanctions, sources who spoke to said this was unlikely to be the case.

“When sanctions are issued by the UN, EU and so on, a list of names is drawn up. If a Russian citizen seeking to avoid sanctions were to present a passport of a different nation to trick a financial institution into continuing to provide services, there could be institutions that might not realise it’s the same person. It depends on the systems they have, in terms of search engines and so on. I wouldn’t say that a person who gets a Maltese passport is going to dodge sanctions, because systems should be intelligent enough to flag that person,” he said.

Nevertheless, the expert predicted there would be mounting pressure both locally and from the EU, and called on the Maltese Government to urgently review the IIP.

“Unfortunately over the years, Malta has lent itself to giving oligarchs a loophole. At the very least, a discussion needs to take place. International sanctions are one thing, but we need to decide what we’re going to do as a nation. In horrendous situations like this, where people’s lives are at stake, a country like Malta needs to take the moral high ground,” he said.

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