İrem UZUN -TDO- Brussels has launched legal action against Cyprus and Malta over their “golden passport” schemes for wealthy investors, saying they were illegal and undermined EU citizenship.  The European commission has written to the two countries to demand explanations, warning that the schemes increased the risks of money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. The commission said that selling citizenship “undermines the essence of EU citizenship”. 

The Cypriot program was introduced in the wake of a 2013 financial crisis that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and forced it to accept a financial rescue program from creditors. Like a similar program in Malta, it has attracted many foreigner investors because a passport from those EU countries automatically grants the holder access to the entire 27-nation European Union. Around 4,000 Cypriot passports have been issued to investors under the program, generating more than 7 billion euros. Malta last month arrested former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff as part of an investigation into alleged kickbacks connected to its own golden passport scheme.

The governments of Malta and Cyprus now have two months to formally respond to the Commission’s letters of notice and will face further pressure from the EU executive unless their replies are “satisfactory.” The Commission can eventually also refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union.  Cyprus recently announced that it was ending its program amid allegations that a top state official and a veteran lawmaker were trying to bypass strict vetting rules. It says it will end its program from Nov. 1, though the Commission notes that the country plans to continue processing current applications. Late on Tuesday Malta also said it was ending its Malta Individual Investor Programme, saying in a press release it has "taken note of the concerns raised by the European Commission".

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