What is the difference between a disposable tourist and a real citizen? The simple answer is constitutional protection. Indeed, without clearly written and time tested constitutional protections, your citizenship is only a temporary travel pass exposed to the caprices of local politicians, foreign governments, assertive media, or anyone else who can throw their weight around and who wants to take a crack at you.
Before committing to a glossy CBI program advertisement, investors have to do competent due diligence on their preferred CBI program, which includes reading the applicable revocation clause in the country’s constitution and/or pertinent regulation. Independent analysis enables investors to readily identify any false impressions created by second-hand sources.
Why revocation clauses are necessary
To be sure, the inclusion of a revocation clause in the constitution is standard practice. They are needed for the protection and well being of the host country. Nonetheless, a legitimate revocation clause should be subject to due process. Additionally, it should be limited to false representation during the application process or crimes against the state, such as being convicted for treason or sedition.
Furthermore, an overreaching revocation clause is not the solution for weeding out undesirables. Instead, the CBI country has an obligation to conduct thorough due diligence during the application process. As a result, the occasional bad actors will be preemptively excluded before they are granted citizenship.
Indeed, revoking citizenship simply makes a bigger mess of an already difficult situation if an undesirable should slip through the system. Therefore, it is imperative that everyone involved avoids cutting corners with due diligence. Only in the most extraordinary situations should it ever be necessary to invoke the revocation clause.
Analysis of nine well-established citizenship by investment programs reveals strong constitutional protections but also exposes cracks that wise investors should certainly be aware of.
St Kitts and Nevis
The St Kitts and Nevis CBI program was unveiled in 1984, soon after the country’s obtaining independence in 1983. The Saint Christopher and Nevis Citizenship by Investment Regulations do not include a revocation clause. However, we can assume that since the country’s independence and the introduction of the CBI program were nearly simultaneous, the revocation clause in the constitution would apply to the CBI program as well.
The original Federation of St Kitts and Nevis Constitution 1983 would apply by default and their citizenship revocation policy is clearly referenced under clause 94(d):
“[…] for depriving of his citizenship any person who has become a citizen by virtue of registration or naturalization if his citizenship was obtained by false representation or fraud or willful concealment of material facts or if he is convicted under any law of an act of treason or sedition”.
The clause is not ambiguous – though it does leave the government latitude in terms of interpretation – and the intention of the legislature is clearly written.
Constitutional protections are only truly tested when they come under pressure, such as in the case of a scandal.
St Kitts and Nevis came under international scrutiny in 2013 because an Iranian businessman – Alizera Moghadam – had entered Canada on a St Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport. Apparently, he told the border agent he was there to see the Canadian Prime Minister.
Although there is nothing scandalous per se about dual citizenship, diplomatic passports, or being Iranian, the incident triggered a huge international uproar.
However, the “scandal” quickly switched focus to the fact that St Kitts and Nevis did not include the country of birth on their passports. For this reason, ostensibly, Canada canceled visa-free access for St Kitts and Nevis citizens. As a result, St Kitts and Nevis conducted a mass recall of 15,000 passports and corrected the omission.
Despite all of the harsh political rhetoric and finger-pointing, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Moghadam’s passport was never revoked. For that matter, I was unable to find evidence of any actual revocations that resulted from this “scandal”.
In another case, according to the St Kitts and Nevis Observer, under overwhelming international scrutiny, the Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, “out of an abundance of caution” through Interpol “deactivated” the St Kitts and Nevis passport of alleged 1MDB mastermind – Jho Low – after he was indicted in the US in 2018.
To be clear, the deactivation of a passport is not the same as the revocation of citizenship. Furthermore, did Jho Lo ever even obtain a St Kitts and Nevis passport?
The question arises because it was reported that Jho Lo only had two passports, his Malaysian passport and St Kitts passport. However, it has now come to light that he actually had a Cyprus passport the whole time. Your guess is as good as mine.
Honorary citizenship under the Vanuatu Development Support Program (DSP) has been scrutinized here on IMI Daily because of its “Honorary” status. This skepticism is for good reason; investors would be foolish not to take heed of its shortfalls before investing in the program.
Indeed, Vanuatu Honorary Citizenship is not the same as regular Vanuatu citizenship. The revocation clause for the program is found on the government’s website:
“The Vanuatu Citizenship Commission has the power to revoke a Vanuatu citizenship based on the following grounds:
- the citizenship was granted in a fraudulent manner; or
- the citizenship was granted contrary to the provisions of the Citizenship Act [Cap 112] or the national Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu; or
- the person after being granted citizenship is not complying with the restrictions provided by the Citizenship Act.“
The Vanuatu Development Support Program is quite new, only established in 2017. Nonetheless, the revocation clause was recently tested by the PlusToken scandal. In 2019, four passports were granted under the Vanuatu DSP to Chinese nationals who were allegedly running the PlusToken Ponzi scheme.
Upon notification by the Chinese authorities, the Vanuatu Citizenship Commission promptly revoked the passports of the defendants. No doubt, the lack of due process and failure of the Vanuatu due diligence process should be a concern for potential DSP investors.
But what is the alternative? Would you rather be subjected to the Citizenship Act that applies to naturalized Vanuatu Citizens? It seems that Honorary Citizenship under the DSP is not as unfair as you might assume.
Under chapter  of the Vanuatu citizenship Act Part 4 clauses 14-16, it dictates the revocation rules for loss of citizenship. There are several circumstances which can result in citizenship revocation including:
- Dual citizenship is not permitted for regular citizens. Those who are found to have taken an oath of foreign allegiance or traveled across an international boundary using a foreign passport will have their Vanuatu citizenship revoked.
- Aspiring criminals can have their Vanuatu citizenship revoked if they are convicted of any crime carrying a sentence of 10 years or more.
Antigua and Barbuda
The Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship By Investment Act 2013 has a clearly written citizenship “deprivation” policy outlined in clause 4(3)(a)(b).
Clause 4(3)(a)(b) applies in instances where a citizenship was obtained through “false representation or fraud or willful concealment of material facts”.
Deprivation is also applicable if a person has been “convicted in Antigua and Barbuda” of an act of treason or sedition. Additionally, under clause 4(3) the person has the right of appeal to the High Court.
The Antigua and Barbuda CBI legal process was recently tested in court by “absconding diamond merchant” Mehul Choksi. Apparently, Mr. Choksi obtained a Antigua and Barbuda passport through the CBI program in 2017.
He then fled his native India in January 2018 weeks before a huge banking scam was publicized implicating Mr. Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi as the masterminds.
Mr. Choksi has faced fierce political rhetoric from the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda who stated that the revocation of Mr. Choksi’s Antiguan passport was “inevitable”. However, he also reiterates that due process would be followed.
As of July 4, 2020, all indications are that Mr. Choksi is still in Antigua and Barbuda. He has surrendered his Antigua and Barbuda passport to the authorities but is not in confinement.
His nephew, on the other hand, entered the UK on a tier 1 investor visa in 2018. He was arrested in 2019 by UK authorities, his request for bail has been denied five times, and he remains in a UK prison while awaiting the results of his extradition trial, which is due in December 2020.
The 2013 Grenada Citizenship by Investment Act 15 establishes the rules and regulations for the Grenada CBI program.
Specifically clause 12(1)(b) permits revocation of citizenship for “material non-disclosure of any information” during the application process. Clause 12(5) applies if the Minister is satisfied the applicant issued citizenship no longer satisfies its provisions.
Furthermore, clause 12(6) requires the Minister to provide notice of the reasons for the revocation in writing to the citizen and allow the person a minimum of 30 days to make objections for the revocation. After due consideration, the Minister will advise the agent of their decision.
The disclosure on Grenada CBI application FORM 5 Part F(4) would indicate any conviction for treason or sedition would be included as reasons for revocation of citizenship.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no revocations or legitimate scandals involving the Grenada program. As a result, the Grenada revocation clause has not been tested in the courts. However, this is not a negative, rather it is a testament to a well run due diligence program.
Unfortunately, there are some claims by Al Jazeera regarding the exchange of Grenadian diplomatic posts for political donations. There is, however, no credible evidence of this. Additionally, rewarding ambassadorships, e.g. to Gordon Sondland, as repayment for political campaign donations or favors is common practice in Western democracies – especially in the US.
This alleged diplomatic passport scandal is a purely hypocritical claim about Grenada by Al Jazeera based on the ramblings of a conman.
The St Lucia Citizenship by Investment Act No. 14 2015 sets out the rules and regulations pertaining to the newest Caribbean CBI program. Specifically, clause 38 states that the Minister may revoke a grant of citizenship made under this act for:
- “False representation or fraud or wilful concealment of material facts” or
- “the person has been convicted of an offense” or
- “the person has performed any other act which, within the opinion of the Minister, has the potential to bring disrepute to Saint Lucia”.
Clause 2 and 3 give the Minister the power to revoke citizenship for a conviction of “any offense” or matters of his “opinion”. Although clause 38 provides for review of the High Court there is little chance of success for anyone who would challenge the decision of the Minister to revoke citizenship.
Indeed, the legislature of St Lucia was unambiguous with the wording of the revocation clause, which clearly gives the Minister the sole discretion to revoke citizenship for any reason he deems appropriate.
The basis for revocation could include second-hand information from undisclosed sources, political innuendo, or petty crimes such as a jaywalking citation.
Indeed, in 2018, the Prime Minister of St Lucia used clause 38 to revoke six citizenships obtained under the St Lucia CBI program. The gazette publication only revealed their names (which appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent) and that – according to the Minister – “they committed acts which may bring St. Lucia into disrepute.”
Established in 1993, the Dominica CBI program is one of the oldest programs in the world, with only St Kitts and Nevis having seniority.
The Commonwealth of Dominica Citizenship by Investment Act outlines the country’s CBI rules and regulations including the revocation clause. The relevant policy is found under clause 4(8)(b)(c).
“4(8) If an applicant –
- (b) is subsequently found to have provided false or incorrect information, or concealed any material fact, the applicant may be deprived of Citizenship of Dominica pursuant to Part III, section 10(2) of the Act;
- (c) commits any of the acts referred to in paragraphs (b) he or she may also be prosecuted pursuant to the provisions of the Perjury Act.”
Furthermore, under Clause 6(a)(b)(c), the government specifies that if a real estate investment used to qualify for the program is sold prematurely (before the end of the stipulated holding period) the investor’s citizenship will be revoked.
It is probable that Commonwealth of Dominica Citizenship Act Part III clause 10 may also apply to successful CBI applicants. The clause states that deprivation of citizenship is possible for any act of disloyalty (treason or sedition) to Dominica or a criminal conviction in any country carrying a sentence of over 12 months within the first 5 years of obtaining citizenship.
To the best of my knowledge, there are not any legitimate scandals or any evidence of the revocation clause ever being used. Indeed, no citizenship revocations or court challenges is a testament to a well run due diligence regime. This is especially true for Dominica since the CBI program has been active for over 27 years.
Nonetheless, in 2019, Al Jazeera created a fuss when they published the story of Iranian businessman Ali Reza Monfared who had apparently obtained a diplomatic passport from Dominica.
Mr Monfared had allegedly received a diplomatic passport in return for political campaign donations and favors in Dominica.
However, as in Grenada, there is no credible evidence provided in Al Jazeera’s allegations. Additionally, rewarding ambassadorships e.g. Gordon Sondland as repayment for political campaign donations or favors is common practice in Western democracies – especially in the US.
One glaring omission that makes validation of the Cyprus revocation clause extremely difficult, or their entire Cyprus Investment Program (CIP) for that matter, is the fact that the applicable legislation is not available on their official website. This is in stark contrast with the other programs already covered.
As a result of international pressure, the revocation clause for the CIP has apparently been retroactively implemented by the Cyprus legislature because it did not previously exist.
According to a September 5 2020 Al Jazeera post:
“While commitments were made in late 2019 to revoke passports of those linked to criminal activity, it was only in July this year that the parliament passed a law that allows citizenship to be stripped retroactively.”
Indeed, the CIP was implemented without a revocation clause. If these new CIP regulations even exist, where an official version can be found, they are beyond my capacity to locate and reference here.
Before this new revocation clause was supposedly created for the CIP, according to a local Cyprus law firm – Patrikios Pavlou & Associates – the Civil Registry Law Article 113 (2) to (3) was applicable. However, according to Patrikios Pavlou & Associates, some of its clauses are applicable and some are not.
Looking elsewhere, I was able to find an abstract of what appears to be a new version of the Cyprus citizenship revocation clause on the Cyprus Property News website. Let’s use it for simple comparison purposes only (obviously, investors should get competent legal counsel before acting on it). The clause reads as follows:
“citizenship can be revoked if an investor is handed a jail sentence of more than five years in any country if they are wanted by Interpol or Europol if they do not comply with the criteria and additional preconditions set out, or subject to international sanctions.”
This elusive nature of the CIP revocation clause is a sign that the Cyprus program was hastily implemented, most likely because they were looking to cash in quickly and were less concerned with establishing respectability.
Indeed, the obscurity of the Cyprus Citizenship Act by itself would be a non-starter for any legitimate investor planning to invest over €2,500,000 in Cyprus.
Nonetheless, this citizenship revocation clause and the new scandal revealed by Al Jazeera should be a moot point for any legitimate investor who is still even remotely considering the Cyprus program.
Indeed, investors have so quickly forgotten that Cyprus raided bank deposits in 2013 in order to bail out their profligate government. As a result, 47.5% of “all bank deposits above €100,000 were seized.”
The money the government pilfered was never paid back and they have expressed no remorse or any intention of ever doing so. This is despite the fact that the €10,000,000,000 EC, ECB, and IMF bailout they received was repaid in full.
Of note is the fact that the EC, ECB, and IMF were fully aware that Cyprus would be stealing money from bank accounts to subsidize the European bailout program. Indeed, the bank heist was not only advocated but required as part of the European bailout being arranged for Cyprus.
What kind of constitutional protections should a legitimate investor expect from a country that steals bank deposits? Additionally, it raises doubts about the integrity of the Cyprus program’s applicants. Who else but a crook with a mountain of illegitimate cash to throw away e.g. Jho Lo would be willing to overlook the obvious insecurity and massive price tag of the Cyprus program.
Furthermore, any legitimate investor will now have to contend with the stigma and shifting constitutional protections resulting from the forthcoming political tsunami.
The Maltese citizenship by investment program is regulated under the Maltese Citizenship Act, Cap 188, LN-47. Specifically, the program regulations pertaining to citizenship revocation are found under section 10.
“Without prejudice to the provisions of article 14 of the Act, the Minister shall in all cases be deemed to have reserved the right to deprive a person of his Maltese citizenship granted under the programme if an applicant who has been granted citizenship fails to comply with any requirement to lease, purchase and retain property in Malta or to make and retain investments in Malta, as established by these regulations or has become a threat to national security or is involved in conduct which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of Malta. In such cases the procedure for deprivation of citizenship stipulated in article 14 of the Act and in any regulations made under the Act in respect of such deprivation shall mutatis mutandis apply.”
The revocation clause makes reference to the “procedure for deprivation” stipulated under “article 14 of the Act”. Therefore, investors should assume the “deprivation” clause found under article 14, Maltese Citizenship Act Cap 188 is relevant.
The revocation clause under LN-47 and the Maltese Citizenship Act Cap 188 itself is clearly written. The procedure for revocation referenced in article 14 requires the Minister to provide notice and allows for review, however the Minister retains control over the review process.
“notice in writing informing him of the ground on which it is proposed to be made and of his right to an inquiry under this article; and if that person applies in the prescribed manner for an inquiry, the Minister shall refer the case to a committee of inquiry consisting of a chairman, being a person possessing judicial experience, appointed by the Minister and of such other members appointed by the Minister as he thinks proper.”
There is no evidence of any citizenship revocations ever occurring under the Malta CBI program, which is a testament to a well run due diligence regime.
There were accusations of corruption that came from a French video recording. In the video, it appeared the agent was offering to provide a preliminary review of the application for a politically exposed person.
Preliminary approval would be a professional courtesy to save the applicant time and expense in the case he ultimately had no chance of approval. No further action resulted from this “scandal” only political accusations and finger-pointing.
In another case, there are allegations that a journalist was murdered who apparently had been “investigating the program for months”. There was no evidence provided of any corruption in the Maltese program only unsubstantiated, circumstantial allegations.
The Government of Montenegro, at the session of 22 November 2018 adopted the “criteria, method and procedure for selection of persons who may acquire Montenegrin Citizenship by Admission for the purpose of implementation of special investment programs of special importance for the business and economic interests of Montenegro.”
Under the “Provision for Inaccurate Data – Article 17” a person who obtained citizenship through the program can be stripped of their status if it was found by the “Competent Body” that “false information or deliberately concealed facts or circumstances” were submitted with the application by the applicant or the international due diligence agency.
Furthermore, under the “Law of Montenegrin Nationality” Montenegro does not allow dual citizenship, if so Montenegrin citizenship can be revoked. Additionally, “Montenegrin nationality may be lost by international treaties or agreements concluded by Montenegro.”
The Montenegro citizenship by investment program is very new with only a small handful of successful applicants. There is no history of revocation or scandals.
I am a CBI specialist working with the Caribbean countries, plus Vanuatu. Additionally, I hold Dominica citizenship through the CBI program and I am a real-life Global Citizen. My interests include international investment, philanthropy, and global travel.