Vanuatu Defends Granting Citizenship to Convicted Businessman Amid Passport Misuse Allegations

The Vanuatu Citizenship Commission has defended its decision to grant citizenship by investment to Andrew Spira, a 28-year-old self-proclaimed multi-millionaire from Sydney, Australia.

Darwin Local Court had convicted Spira of multiple criminal charges, including financial fraud, drug possession and distribution, possession of false documents, firearm offenses, and domestic violence. Spira pled guilty to a string of fraud and drug charges.

According to documents seized by Australian police in Darwin, as reported by several media outlets, including NT News, Spira had plans to establish a drug business, hijack a yacht, and form an armed militia in Vanuatu and East Timor after fleeing Australia.

Despite his criminal record and alleged attempts to evade justice, some reports claim that Vanuatu granted him citizenship and bank loans to establish himself in the country.

Allan Liki, the Secretary General of Vanuatu’s Citizenship Commission, stated that Spira cleared background checks from INTERPOL and Vanuatu’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

Liki said, “We received [information] from INTERPOL at the Vanuatu Police Force. They have given an offense against Mr. Spira, but it was specifically on his passport that his passport was either lost or stolen, which to us is not categorized as a criminal offense or any other activity as such.”

In a statement to the Vanuatu Daily Post, Spira said, “The process of obtaining my citizenship was legal and followed all proper channels.” He added, “It is disheartening to see my character being questioned and my intentions misrepresented in the media. I have worked hard to rebuild my life and make a positive impact in the world since the mistake I made in my twenties.”

EC Holdings Director Martin St-Hilaire doesn’t know how “bad that person [Spira] is” but believes that “Vanuatu is a sovereign nation, and like other sovereign nations on earth, Vanuatu is free to grant citizenship to applicants based on its own criteria.”

St-Hilaire points out that millions of people naturalize around the world every year, and he thinks that “this story is spun in a manner to discredit Vanuatu CBI.”

He points out, “we do not have the full story here,” and questions whether Spira had obtained Vanuatu citizenship “without disclosing the truth” and whether he was convicted at the time of approval.

St-Hilare then posted the question: “Should nations systematically, without any exceptions, disqualify every applicant who has been convicted in another nation? What if that other nation is a dictatorship like China or Russia? Should we trust the legal system of these nations? Is that person a higher risk for Vanuatu and for the world now that he holds two citizenships?”

International tax and immigration expert David Lesperance isn’t surprised by the development. He believes “Vanuatu’s reaction to Australia pointing out that they had granted honorary citizenship to someone who had significant criminal charges is in keeping with how they previously dealt with EU concerns about background checks.” He says Vanuatu’s main strategy with issues like these is to “minimize and deflect blame.”

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Lesperance says the government’s approach “results only in more travel difficulties for Ni-Vanuatu.” The European Commission is considering suspending Vanuatu’s visa-free access to the Schengen Area due to concerns over the CBI program’s security and due diligence measures.

Chinese Vanuatu passport holder detained in the Philippines

In a separate incident, the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration (BI) detained a Chinese national, Alex Cooper, at Ninoy Aquino International Airport while he was attempting to travel to Thailand using a Vanuatu passport.

The BI’s Border Control and Intelligence Unit (BCIU) conducted an investigation revealing that Cooper had difficulty communicating in English, was fluent in Chinese, and had “never gone to Vanuatu, and he knows nothing about the South Pacific nation and its culture.”

According to the BI, Cooper allegedly used his Vanuatu passport to enter and exit the Philippines when traveling to other countries. The bureau is investigating the legitimacy of Cooper’s Vanuatu citizenship.

Cooper’s passport was issued on February 15, 2021, and according to the BI, he used the same passport when he first arrived in Manila on June 30, 2022.

If proven fraudulent, he could face deportation and a ban from re-entering the Philippines.

BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco said: “If we are able to establish that he is actually a Chinese citizen and that his Vanuatu passport was merely procured from fixers to conceal his real identity, he will be summarily deported and banned from re-entering the country.”

It remains unknown whether Cooper’s Vanuatu passport was fraudulent or if he obtained it through the nation’s CIP and changed his name.

Lesperance says that even though the “details are sketchy at the moment, it appears that governments around the world may be focusing on the reality that not everyone who has a green Vanuatu passport is actually a citizen of Vanuatu.”

He explains that “visa regulations are based on citizenship. This might be the initial domino of pending problems stemming from Vanuatu’s Honorary Citizenship Program.”

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Ahmad Abbas AdministratorAuthorSubscriberParticipant
Director of Content Services , Investment Migration Insider

Ahmad Abbas is Director of Content Services at Investment Migration Insider and an 8-year veteran of the investment migration industry.

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