‘Greed’ blamed af­ter Canada pun­ishes St. Kitts and Ne­vis over its buy-a- pass­port pro­gramme

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL - By Tristin Hop­per – The Na­tional Post

The Prime Min­is­ter of St. Kitts and Ne­vis had harsh words for the ex­cesses of the buy-a-pass­port pro­gramme that got his Caribbean coun­try on Canada’s bad list.

It was “all be­cause one man was caught up with his greed and hubris and self­in­ter­est,” Prime Min­is­ter Tim Har­ris re­cently told his coun­try’s par­lia­ment, as re­ported by the St. Kitts and Ne­vis Ob­server. Any­body with $250,000 could buy a St. Kitts and Ne­vis pass­port with­out so much as vis­it­ing the is­land na­tion. The coun­try even started sell­ing diplo­matic cre­den­tials, most no­tably for Ira­nian businessman Al­iz­era Moghadam, who en­tered Canada with a diplo­matic pass­port he claims to have pur­chased for $1 mil­lion.

The United States soon warned that “il­licit ac­tors” were freely roam­ing the globe un­der the St. Kitts and Ne­vis name. Canada then upped the ante by end­ing a much-cher­ished visa waiver for vis­it­ing Kit­ti­tians and Ne­visians.

And to Par­lia­ment, Har­ris laid the blame on pre­de­ces­sor Den­zil Dou­glas, whom he ousted in a Fe­bru­ary elec­tion. “And all he wanted was money, money for his own sake, and he was pre­pared to re­move that which dis­tin­guishes us from other peo­ple and coun­tries and other ju­ris­dic­tions … to al­low the il­licit ac­tors to be able to move about with dis­guise,” he was quoted as say­ing by the Ob­server.

Of course, it’s still pos­si­ble to buy pass­ports in St. Kitts and Ne­vis, but Har­ris has in­sisted that his gov­ern­ment has smoothed out the ex­cesses of the pre­vi­ous Labour gov­ern­ment.

“The new gov­ern­ment, which I now lead … has worked hard to strengthen the pro­gramme to en­sure that, by and large, no il­licit ac­tor can par­tic­i­pate,” said Har­ris in an in­ter­view ear­lier this month.

Of­fi­cially known as the Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment pro­gramme, it al­lows for­eign na­tion­als to pur­chase St. Kitts and Ne­vis cit­i­zen­ship via ei­ther a $400,000 real es­tate pur­chase, or a $250,000 do­na­tion to the coun­try’s Sugar In­dus­try Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion Foun­da­tion.

De­buted in 1984, it is a cheaper version of pro­grammes run through­out the western world, in­clud­ing Canada and the United States.

Un­til it was can­celled ear­lier this year, the Cana­dian Im­mi­grant In­vestor Pro­gram, for in­stance, of­fered cit­i­zen­ship to any­body with a net worth of more than $1.6 mil­lion pre­pared to give a tax-free $800,000 loan to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

For­eign pass­port-buy­ers re­main a crit­i­cal part of the St. Kitts and Ne­vis econ­omy. For the 2014 fis­cal year, cit­i­zen­ship fees were cited as pro­vid­ing nearly half of the gov­ern­ment’s $767.9-mil­lion bud­get.

In his 2016 bud­get ad­dress, Har­ris praised the Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment pro­gramme as “a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the na­tional econ­omy” that had been al­lowed to “fall into dis­re­pute.”

Canada’s de­ci­sion to kill the visa waiver, in par­tic­u­lar, was cited as a friendly gov­ern­ment “pub­licly telling the world it could not en­dure a re­la­tion­ship that had be­come risky to its na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.”

At the time, Canada’s re­jec­tion prompted a mass re­call of 15,000 St. Kitts and Ne­vis pass­ports to re­move a par­tic­u­larly con­tro­ver­sial fea­ture that did not dis­play the place of birth of a pass­port holder.

The rul­ing Team Unity gov­ern­ment has main­tained that the fea­ture was main­tained to make St. Kitts and Ne­vis pass­ports more at­trac­tive to “il­licit” buy­ers.

De­spite changes, how­ever, visas re­main manda­tory for “gen­uine visi­tors from St. Kitts and Ne­vis,” ac­cord­ing to a note by Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Canada. En­try will be de­nied to “those who would oth­er­wise be in­ad­mis­si­ble to Canada.”

Mean­while, cit­i­zen­ship sales con­tinue, and St. Kitts and Ne­vis au­thor­i­ties are quick to note the dozens of coun­tries that will still let in a St. Kitts and Ne­vis pass­port-holder for free. “Peo­ple hold­ing a St. Kitts and Ne­vis pass­port can travel to 133 coun­tries with­out the need for a visa; you can travel to Europe and a mul­ti­plic­ity of coun­tries in the Caribbean,” said Har­ris in a re­cent in­ter­view.

St. Kitts and Ne­vis Prime Min­is­ter Tim Har­ris says his gov­ern­ment has worked hard to strengthen the pro­gramme to en­sure that, by and large, no il­licit

ac­tor can par­tic­i­pate.

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