Tuesday, October 19

Malaysian Fugitive Tried to Buy “Golden Passport” to EU, Report Says | European Union


A Malaysian fugitive wanted in connection with one of the biggest scams in history tried to buy a “golden passport” that would have granted him unrestricted access to the EU. according to the report.

Jho Low, who is wanted by law enforcement for his alleged role in the theft of more than $ 4.5 billion (£ 3.3 billion) from the Malaysian government and people, sought the help of a passport brokerage called Henley & Partners to help him buy – Cyprus citizenship, the report states.

The country is one of several EU countries that is dedicated to “citizenship by investment”, whereby wealthy people can invest in government property or bonds in exchange for visas or passports. The practice is highly controversial, in part because a passport from one EU member state grants the bearer unrestricted access to all the others.

The schemes have also proven attractive to high-risk individuals, such as money launderers or corrupt politicians from countries where the rule of law is weak.

The joint report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Sarawak Report, a Malaysian investigative journalism outlet, states that Low signed a contract with Henley & Partners in 2015 for help in acquiring Cypriot citizenship.

Henley & Partners has previously denied any relationship with Low. A spokesperson told reporters that the company rejected Low as a customer because it failed its internal due diligence checks.

Instead, however, it referred him to a third agency. The invoices seen by reporters show Henley & Partners issuing invoices to other Cypriot companies for work related to Low’s application for a golden passport.

They also got leaked emails that appear to show that Henley’s Cypriot office chief is communicating directly with Low and detailing the steps required to help him invest in a property as part of his gold passport application. The company ordered Low to transfer 6 million euros (£ 5.3 million) to an escrow account to cover the cost of the property, according to the report.

However, in November 2016, five months after the US Department of Justice publicly identified him as a conspirator in the 1MDB fraud, Low allegedly sought the help of Henley & Partners in acquiring a larger alternative property.

A Henley & Partners spokesperson told reporters that “we are completely confident that the company did nothing wrong,” but admitted that “it may be that some of the staff involved at the time did not act as a single team or did not adhere. to the new procedures or did not exercise a sufficient level of judgment regarding their interaction with real estate partners ”.

Low, who is widely reported to be in China, has previously denied wrongdoing. However, the disclosure of more details of his attempt to obtain a Cypriot golden passport will place the scandal-ridden scheme under increased scrutiny.

Last year, the country announced the suspension of the program after undercover journalists from Al Jazeera filmed Cypriot lawmakers agreeing to help a fictitious Chinese criminal gain access to the country.

In 2017, The Guardian reported on a leaked list of applicants for the program, including several Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, as well as a Syrian businessman who was sanctioned by the United States for corruption.

In October last year, the European Commission took legal action against Cyprus and Malta, which have their own golden passport scheme, over concerns that the programs devalued the concept of EU citizenship by granting passports to people without a genuine link to neither of the two countries.

Paddy Blewer, the head of Henley & Partners’ communications group, reiterated in a statement to the Guardian that Low was referred to a third party and not accepted as a direct customer.

“The Henley & Partners group executive committee has long recognized that the firm should not benefit in any way from any individual who has been rejected, for whatever reason,” he said.

He said that new safeguards had since been put in place to prevent similar situations, and that the staff and executives involved in the transaction had left the company.


www.theguardian.com

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