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Selling citizenship

DIANE ABBOTT

Sunday, July 06, 2014    

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Recently I attended a conference in Geneva about offshore finance. There was a whole session devoted to the benefits of buying St Kitts and Nevis citizenship. I was struck at how generous the benefits were and wondered how much the actual people of St Kitts and Nevis were benefiting from this.

A family of four can purchase St Kitts citizenship by paying US$300 together with a due diligence fee of US$7,500 (plus US$4,000 for each dependent aged 16 or over), or they can invest a similar amount of money in designated real estate. The particular piece of real estate showcased at the session that I attended was a development called Kittitian Hill which seemed to be in the process of development.

But, in return for hard cash, the benefits the expatriate gets are extremely generous. They include: citizenship, not just for you but your immediate family and dependents; visa-free travel authorisation to more than 130 countries including Canada, the UK, all EU Schengen countries, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore; full rights of residency in St Kitts and Nevis; but no obligation to actually live in St Kitts and Nevis; no personal income tax; no wealth tax; no inheritance tax or other direct taxes; dual citizenship is permitted; no information is shared with your existing country of citizenship and the names of applicants are not published. And apparently it can all be sorted out in three months.

No doubt all the people who purchase St Kitts citizenship in this way are extremely respectable. But it does seem to be a money launderer's charter. It is particularly striking that they undertake not to share any information with your country of citizenship. This would seem to be contrary to all the steps taken recently to increase transparency in offshore finance.

St Kitts is not the only country where you can buy citizenship in this way. Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda have similar programmes. Some European countries are also going down this route. These tend to be countries that have been hardest hit by the international financial crash and who need to scrape up money any way they can.

The European countries do not offer almost instant passports or secrecy, but purchasing citizenship from countries like Portugal, Ireland, Austria, Cyprus and Montenegro does give you the right to live and travel in the European Union.

What is remarkable about the Caribbean schemes is that the money required is minimal compared to the benefits. Purchasing citizenship in this way must be worth millions every year to the international plutocrats who are the purchasers. Presumably the countries involved must be frightened to put the price up too much in case they are undercut by another Caribbean country offering a more advantageous rate. But surely international organisations like Caricom should step in and put a floor under how little a country can sell its citizenship for.

There is something demeaning about selling your country's citizenship in this way, but in these difficult economic times it may be necessary. However, Caribbean countries that offer particularly generous schemes should at least make sure they are charging what the market will bear. Citizenship is too precious to be sold cheaply.

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