Montenegro to re-start the sale of passports

On 26 June, the government of Montenegro has adopted the Information on the programme for the acquisition of Montenegrin citizenship by investment, and has instructed the relevant authorities to prepare the launch of the programme from October 2018.

In 2010, the small Balkan state had tried to launch a similar initiative, but decided to put it on hold due to criticism from the European Union and several of its member states, most notably Germany. This criticism was sparked in part by the general state of affairs of justice and the rule of law in Montenegro. Yet it was triggered by the previous decision of the country’s government to naturalise the former Prime Minister of Thailand Taksin Shinavatra, who has been charged with corruption. Even without the scheme Montenegro had discretionary mechanisms to offer its passport to controversial investors. In 2012, Mohammad Dahlan a former Palestinian politician, sentenced to three years in jail for embezzlement became a Montenegrin national through financial disbursement. Similar investor citizenship schemes have frequently been associated with corruption and money laundering for example in Austria, Belize, Cyprus, and most recently, Malta.

The structure of Montenegro’s forthcoming investor citizenship programme follows closely similar templates of the programmes in Malta and some of the Caribbean states. The programme will be open to non-EU nationals and capped at 2,000 applications over three years. It will consist of two options: investment of 250,000 euros in a pre-approved project in an underdeveloped region or 450,000 euros in a developed region. On top of that, applicants will be obliged to invest 100,000 in a special governmental fund for supporting the underdeveloped regions. Authorised agents will act as intermediaries between the applicants and the government and specialised agencies will be contracted for due diligence checks. The government of Montenegro has not announced whether any international firm will be the concessionaire designing, implementing and promoting the programme. The selection of the concessionaire has been a subject of public debate, due to cancellation of the first public call.

The programme has been launched despite protests from several EU Member States. Further to this, the head of the EU Delegation in Montenegro Aivo Orav warned the Montenegrin authorities to carefully assess the issue so as to avoid difficulties in the context of the country’s EU accession.