CIP officials engaging European Commission to avoid ‘shutdown’ of lucrative sector

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The government is calling on neighbouring countries that operate CIPs to band together in staving off the threat of dissolution. If that fails, it says, it will work independently to secure the future of its own programme. (File photo)
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By Orville Williams

[email protected]

The Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) here in Antigua is currently engaged with the European Commission in an attempt to prevent the shutdown of the lucrative industry across the region.

This effort follows complaints some months ago by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who stressed that Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CIPs) are “objectionable from an ethical, legal and economic point of view, and pose several serious security risks”.

Earlier this year, the EU threatened to remove visa-free access to its Schengen area for countries with such schemes.

The MEPs lamented the perceived lack of comprehensive vetting procedures and that the current system allows for successive applications in different member states, relying on checks carried out by non-state actors.

They added, too, that the ‘golden passports’ schemes undermine the essence of EU citizenship and should be phased out.

As expected, news of this stance drew the urgent attention of Eastern Caribbean member states, many of whom depend on CIPs as a viable source of much-needed income.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne was one of the first regional leaders to write to the EU, asking the body to reconsider any intention to force a phase-out of the programmes in the Caribbean.

Since then, Antigua and Barbuda has suggested the establishment of a regulatory body to oversee the programmes and provide the necessary ‘peace of mind’ to the EU.

Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, spoke yesterday on the status of that suggestion, noting that the twin island state is independently working to save the industry.

“It is still a matter that is in flux … the CIU here has been in touch with the European Commission in respect of them auditing our own CIP. They would have taken an initial look, they still have some concerns, and we are still engaging them on that point to avert an overall shutdown of the sector in the Caribbean,” Nicholas said.

Speaking during the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing, the Information Minister reiterated the level of safety and security included in the sub-regional investment programmes, comparing them to other programmes abroad that would have similarly faced scrutiny in the past.

He also issued a call for neighbouring countries that operate CIPs to band together in staving off the threat of dissolution.

“Certainly, when we would compare ourselves to some that had taken place in the Channel Isles, our programmes have proven to be a lot better regulated and would allow for better scrutiny … so, our challenge is to unplait ourselves from the generic view that [the EU has] of CIPs outside of those [in] the United States and Canada.

“We are doing that engagement and, hopefully, at the end of it, we will be able to demonstrate that our programme is not as they would perceive,” Nicholas said.

“At the same time, we would do better if – as a brand [or] a group in the region – we all would join forces in this endeavour. But even as we say that, we’ve recognised that some of the other programmes in the region are not as well regulated as the one in Antigua, so that is our challenge.”

Nicholas noted, too, that if no consensus can be reached among the Caribbean countries operating CIPs, Antigua and Barbuda will have to go it alone in the hope of saving itself.

“We are still looking forward for the opportunity to join shoulders with our [fellow] CIP jurisdictions in the region, to be able to circumscribe the overall picture that is being painted of CIPs; if we can achieve that, we will work in that domain.

“Other than that, we are working behind the scenes to ensure that when final consideration is given, we are given a more favourable look than maybe some others who are not as mindful to engage the way we are,” he added.

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