Lesperance: It’s Time For Some Heavy Lifting in Vanuatu


Reasonable Doubt
With David Lesperance

A contrarian expert on contingency plans for the wealthy delivers uncomfortable truths.


As the recent disappearances of Jack Ma and Zhang Feng highlight, for HNW Chinese families, the design and implementation of an effective Backup Plan can literally mean the difference between freedom and disappearance, prison – or even death. To be clear, the purpose of a Backup Plan is not to evade justice. Rather, a proper Plan can ensure that those accused by the Chinese government of wrongdoing are actually afforded the rule of law protections that we in the West take for granted. These include the presumption of innocence, access to legal counsel, and the ability to deliver a proper defense.

Over the past few years, the most enthusiastic market for the Vanuatu CBI program has been China. In fact, up to October 2020, Chinese nationals accounted for over 42% of 4,037 “citizenship” statuses that Vanuatu had sold in the previous 6 years. But please take note; I put “citizenship” in quotation marks for a reason.

In a series of past IMI articles in Feb 2020, April 2020, and Sept 2020, I posed a series of questions that relate to a fundamental concern about the Vanuatu program:

Is the status that Vanuatu is selling inherently flawed and, therefore, dangerous in the long term to those who are relying on this status for an effective Backup Plan?

Specifically, I focused on the fact that the original version of the legislation clearly granted a status called “Honorary Citizenship”. In my articles, I laid out how Honorary Citizenship was viewed internationally. I also detailed the dangers to buyers who rely on such a nebulous status.

In a three-part series with IMI, the Chairman of the Vanuatu Citizenship Commission, Ronald Warsal, was asked a series of questions on a variety of issues concerning the Vanuatu program. Also interviewed were CEO James Elcocke-Harris of the Vanuatu Investment Migration Bureau, and locally designated DSP agent Daniel Agius. Kieron Sharp, the CEO of FACT UK, who has a background in the London Metropolitan Police and Interpol, was also questioned. 

You are welcome to listen to the entire series – it is very informative. However, to save you time the concerns I raised in my prior articles were covered in the first 6 minutes of the first part of the interview.

Let me recap my concerns:

Concern 1: Were there any specific legislative changes passed that changed the original Honorary Citizenship status?
In his interview, Chairman Warsal vaguely alluded to changes made “in 2017” without citing any specific legislation. In my April 2020 article, I reviewed similar prior claims of legislative change. I concluded that a review of the cited legislation did nothing to legally change the offered status from Honorary citizenship to ordinary Ni-Vanuatu citizenship.

Concern 2: What status does Vanuatu grant today to those who apply under their current program(s)?
Until someone can clearly and definitively articulate that the necessary legislative changes have been made (with proper citations to the legislation), I will continue to defend my position that the status being offered was and remains Honorary Citizenship.

Concern 3: If in the future there will be a legislative change from Honorary to Ordinary Ni-Vanuatu status for applicants after a specific date, what will be done to legislatively address those who had previously been granted Honorary Citizenship?
If the Vanuatu government goes through the legislative effort to change the status offered to new applicants from Honorary Citizenship to full Ni-Vanuatu citizenship, then they also need to pass legislation to deal with all prior Honorary Citizenships that have been granted.

Concern 4: If nothing has changed, what is planned for the future and when will this happen?
Towards the end of the segment, James Elcocke-Harris acknowledges that changes will be needed in the future However, he gives no timetable as to if and when this will occur. Further to this, the only actual government official, Chairman Warsal, makes no mention of any future action in this area.

Concern 5: If nothing has changed and Vanuatu is still granting Honorary Citizenship, is this a program worth considering even if there may be pricing and speed advantages?
As I articulated over three prior articles, I do not think the risks associated with acquiring a status that is anything less than full citizenship are worthwhile. The speed or price of acquisition is meaningless if the product received is not fit for the purpose intended.

In conclusion, I hope that officials such as Chairman Warsal go through the effort to actually pass the necessary legislation to bring the status offered up to international standards. They must also correct defects in statuses previously sold. It is heartening to see him engaging in side issues such as pricing and marketing. However, he really needs to focus on the heavy lifting involved in corrective legislation. Given the importance of the revenue generated by this program to a country devastated by both a typhoon and a pandemic-suppressed tourism industry, failure to make these corrections could be catastrophic – to many both inside and outside the country.

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David Lesperance AuthorSubscriber

David Lesperance is a global leader of international tax and immigration advisors.

A published author in the field, his personal interest in these areas of law grew from his experience working as Canadian immigration and customs officer while studying law. Since being called to the bar in 1990, he has established his expertise with major law firms, his own law firm and as a private consultant. David has successfully advised scores of high and ultra high net-worth individuals and their families, many of whom continue to seek his counsel today. In addition he has provided pro bono advice to many governments on how to improve their Citizenship by Investment, Residence by Investment or Golden Visa type programs to better meet the needs of his global clients. David is supported by a team of professionals, some of whom have worked with him since the early 1990s.

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