Controversial ‘Dollars for Passport’ Scheme Under Review

Controversial ‘Dollars for Passport’ Scheme Under Review

St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris
St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris

by Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

The six-week-old government in the Eastern Caribbean twin island federation of St. Kitts and Nevis says it is planning a complete overhaul of its economic citizenship program through which foreigners can buy a local passport and citizenship through cash and investment projects because the system was badly abused by the previous administration.

The island, along with others such as Dominica and Grenada, has had its dollars for passport and citizenship scheme for decades, but recent events involving people who bought into the program, qualified to be passed off as citizens and abused it in North American have now forced authorities to rethink it altogether.

Newly minted Prime Minister Timothy Harris told the local Nation newspaper in the past week that authorities are poring over reports about the program since taking office after the mid-February general elections that got rid of the administration of controversial Prime Minister Denzil Douglas after close to 20 years in office.

Critics say that the program was badly supervised and monitored under Douglas, to the extent that Canada said that it was forced to kick St. Kitts and Nevis off a list of elite countries whose nationals could have entered Canada without a visa and extensive security checks. Canadian and American authorities had accused officials on the island of conducting lax due diligence investigations on the backgrounds of some of those who paid the $250,000 deposit to qualify and had made promises to invest in real estate and other projects.

“We at home are working posthaste to revamp the program to institute some control measures, which we think will reduce the incidence of risk to our program and to our partners internationally,” he said.”

Harris, a former finance minister who had turned against Douglas and formed his own Team Unity party that ousted his ex-boss, said that officials are studying a slew of investigative reports about the program and want to make it more efficient, transparent and good enough for external partners such as Canada.

“In December 2014, an independent investigation was done of the program. We are studying that report from a credible and respectable entity that has itself been involved in due diligence in relation to citizenship in relation to financial transactions, and they are looking at those recommendations and in a week or two, the cabinet will make a determination how we will proceed in light of those recommendations and in light of the other information that we have garnered from our interactions with developers in the program, service providers and, of course, with concerned governments.”

Canada has also expressed discomfort that passports obtained under the scheme did not show the original place of birth of a new holder or crucial information such as any change in birth name, allowing the carrier to evade background checks.

The result is that officials are moving to recall another set of controversially issued travel documents, diplomatic passports, issued in the past two and a half years, so as to amend them and comply with international guidelines.