Vanuatu citizenship can be purchased for US$130,000 in a process that typically takes just over a month and doesn’t require the buyer to set foot in the country. More than 2,000 people, including individuals sought by police, have purchased passports, and with them visa-free access to the EU and UK.
Among those granted citizenship through the country’s development support program were a Syrian businessman with US sanctions against his businesses, a suspected North Korean politician, an Italian businessman accused of extorting the Vatican, a former member of a notorious Australian motorcycle gang, and South African brothers accused of a $3.6bn cryptocurrency heist.
The Guardian also identified Libya’s former UN-backed prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Sarraj is just one of a number of prominent political figures who purchased Vanuatu citizenship. As Libyan ceasefire agreements broke down in January 2020, Sarraj obtained passports for him and his family – applied for under his wife’s name. After resigning in March of this year, he has since reportedly left Libya. There is no suggestion by the Guardian that Sarraj or his wife have been involved in any wrongdoing or criminal activity, or did anything improper in buying a Vanuatu passport.
Other political figures include Alaa Ibrahim, the former Syrian governor of Damascus countryside, and Vinay Mishra, a former Indian politician. Mishra is currently living in Vanuatu and facing allegations of corruption back in India, which his lawyers are reported as saying he wishes to fight.
The list presents a list of colourful characters including a Fifa boss, an Emirati princess and a Nigerian televangelist – none of whom the Guardian alleges were involved in any wrongdoing or criminal activity.
On paper, Vanuatu prevents citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and North Korea from obtaining citizenship unless they can prove they have been a resident outside these countries for more than five years. However, the Guardian was able to identify a number of applicants from those countries who were resident within the black-listed countries at the time of applying.
The passports program, which netted the Vanuatu government more than US$116m last year, has been highly controversial since its relaunch in 2017. But until now, knowledge of who has bought passports through the scheme has been murky.
Vanuatu issued roughly 2,200 passports in 2020 through these programs – more than half (around 1,200) were to Chinese nationals. After Chinese, the most common nationality of recipients was Nigerian, Russian, Lebanese, Iranian, Libyan, Syrian and Afghan. Twenty people from the US, six Australians and a handful of people from Europe were also among those who applied.
Chinese nationals received more than half of all Vanuatu passports through its citizenship by investment scheme
The Guardian has found that a number of Vanuatu applicants are heavily implicated in a complex web of offshore business, with some owning shell companies with no discernible business activity.
Both the EU and the OECD have continued to express concerns regarding due diligence measures, forcing Vanuatu to promise it would step up background checks last year in an attempt to clean up the programs’ image.
Source: The Guardian