Malta is in the news again, and for the same old reasons - its cash for passports scheme. Recent reports indicate the Maltese government has been very elastic when defining the term 'residency'; the prize for residency being an EU passport with all the mobility that goes with it.
When the Maltese government first announced its residency scheme, intended to show a 'genuine connection' to Malta, it seemed legit; someone seeking residency had to spend at least twelve months in Malta before they could claim it. Except, not really; some spent as little as sixteen days in Malta, perhaps endowing a charity or two, just to seem reasonable. In order to do this they rented an apartment for a few years, sometimes as many as twelve people per apartment - all claiming residence, of course. The rental agreement was more than enough to prove residency, and with it came that all-important passport.
As schemes go, this is cheap given the prize on offer. You could spend relatively little on an apartment rental, particularly if you were splitting the cost several ways. A quick in-and-out visit to your country of residence, just to show your face, and boom! You're a European.
From the Guardian article:
As part of their demonstration of a commitment to their new home, Malta’s golden passport applicants were also required to invest €1.15m in the country, including a property purchase worth at least €350,000 or a five-year rental at €80,000. [per annum]
Some of the properties that were rented were significantly smaller than the size an applicant’s family would realistically have required had they planned to live in the property. In one case, a Chinese national rented a two-bedroom apartment for €1,500 a month despite applying for citizenship for 12 people, including six children.
€80,000 is approximately $96,000, if you were looking to get an EU passport. About the same cost as a high-end sportscar, so if you can afford a Ferrari you can afford to rent in Malta. I shan't bother to quote the GBP value; after all, the English already had a European passport and they tore it up, so presumably no citizen of the UK would bother relocating to Malta now.
The article's information comes courtesy of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, a non-profit named after a Maltese anti-corruption journalist who was murdered in 2017. A Maltese businessman, Yorgen Fenech, has been accused of involvement in that car bombing, as well as being neck-deep in the government's corruption scandal.
For those of you wondering what you can expect from a property in Malta, I give you this Sotheby's listing. Which is ironic really, since the people we're talking about would never bother with any of these properties, beautiful though they may be. I mean, $23 million? Why would you? The kind of people in it for the passport wouldn't touch these high-end penthouses and detached palazzos.
All of which made me wonder: if it's good enough for Russian Mafia dons and dodgy high-net-worth individuals the world over, surely Malta's good enough for the Conspiracy?
I shan't go through the whole Quick and Dirty, but in brief:
Malta is a south European island nation in the Mediterranean, below the toe of Italy's boot and broadly halfway between it and the African continent. Humans have lived there since the dawn of time, but if you know Malta at all it's probably because of its role in the Crusades when the Knights Hospitaller were in charge.
Also, there's a film.
Given its location it's no surprise Malta has been influenced by every culture in Europe, economically, politically and architecturally. Independent since 1964; before that it was a British colony from 1814 onwards.
Geographically it's mostly low lying and rocky, with plenty of coastline. It can be rainy in winter, and is usually hot and dry in summer. What we think of as Malta is actually an archipelago, with only the three largest islands (Malta, Ghawdex or Gozo, and Kemmuna or Comino) inhabited - mostly Malta.
Population, broadly 515,000, or about the same number as live in Sacramento, California. Valetta, the largest city, has about 214,000 inhabitants, so roughly half the total population of Malta; the vast majority of Maltese, c. 95%, live in an urban area of one kind or another. Mostly native Maltese, with about 21% other nations, and majority Christian (Catholic).
Government: republic closely patterned on the UK's parliamentary democracy, with an elected President (chief of state) and Prime Minister (leader of the government). Three main political parties, being the Democratic Party (Partit Demokratiku), Labor Party (Partit Laburista), and Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista). PL is the dominant force, rocked with political scandals though it may be.
There's one airport and two heliports, so unless you're planning on swimming from Italy your best bet is by sea - unless you're the sort of vampire who can get through airport security without setting off alarms. Malta is also known as a drug transshipment point, but as far as narcotics goes it's not a hugely important port. Mostly hashish from Northern Africa, bound for Europe.
So if I was a vampire what would I be looking for in a house?
Security. Isolation. Good transport links - I don't want to be schlepping everywhere on foot and horses are passé, always assuming one would let me ride it. Lots of acreage, for the hiding of things I'd prefer were kept hidden. In fact probably the exact opposite of the kind of house the passport-hungry want to rent, but I have needs that a grotty little hole in Valetta isn't going to satisfy.
In fact, something not unlike this Sotheby's advert. A 5 bed farmhouse, renovated to exacting standards with 20 tumoli of land (a little over an acre), a stable and a large garage. Somewhere far enough from other people I can do as I like. Ideally it would also be somewhere on or near the coast; a private cove for the yacht would be ideal. It fits the James Bond / Hitman fantasy to a T, and is exactly the sort of place I'd use in a Stakes game.
However if I was going a little Dusty I'd skip that luxury - tempting though it is - and go for the grotty apartment in Valetta, owned through some dupe in, oh ... South Africa, why not. Someone who's never going to visit in person. Because if I'm really Dusty then this is all about the passport, and the great thing about an apartment like that is its anonymity. If I need passports for my Russian goons, or whoever it may be, I just funnel them through my Valetta hideaway and they emerge on the other side a new man. Or thing. Whatever. Anyway, they have the passport and that's all that matters, isn't it? No need to fake a cover when the real thing works just fine.
Of course, they do have to spend some time in Malta - a little over two weeks, more or less. Think of it as a holiday. It does make you peculiarly vulnerable for a couple of weeks. Alone, in an unfamiliar country. Anything could happen ...
Scenario Seed: WHAT IS LEAST EXPENSIVE WHICH COMPLIES W/ PROGRAM.
The agents, through their usual efficient means (Accounting most likely, possibly also Criminology, Traffic Analysis, High Society) become aware that the Node they're trailing has a peculiar subsidiary: Tumoli Ltd, a company registered in Gibraltar that exists to own one asset, an apartment in Malta. This same apartment has been used as a residency address for at least half a dozen disreputable types that the agents know of, and probably more besides. It's a nasty little roach hotel on Testaferrata Street and as luck would have it someone of great interest to the agents is in Malta right now. There's no telling how long they'll be there; they only have to be physically present on the island for a few days to meet residency requirements. If ever the agents want to catch up with this person of interest, to gather information, carry out a discreet assassination, or some other reason, now's the time.
Funny thing: when you provide temporary accommodation for blood drinkers, it creates problems for the neighbors. Nosferatu had his rats - lots of rats - and it turns out roach motel is more than just a moniker, this time around. A strange disease ripples up and down Testaferrata Street and some say it just isn't natural. Of course the government doesn't care; there's always something wrong with Testaferrata, someone's always complaining, there's always another community action group.
To find out what's really going on the agents will have to take a close look at that little place on Testaferrata. Perhaps talk to the rentals agent who looks after the property, that twitchy woman with the bad case of polymorphic light eruption, also known as sun poisoning. At some point they'll have to catch up with their target, whoever - or whatever - that might be.
Then things really will kick off ...
That's it for this week. Enjoy!