GASTON BROWNE HUSTLES "CITIZEN BY INVESTMENTS" & ADMITS ANTIGUA SELLS PASSPORTS TO IRAN CITIZENS CONTRARY TO UN SANCTIONS
But it’s not stopped the programs from multiplying across the Caribbean…Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Antigua are all competing with St. Kitts now for customers and badly needed cash.
Gaston Browne: So what are we supposed to do? Sit back and do nothing? You tell me.
Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, says the revenue from its three-year-old program has kept the government from defaulting on its international loans and has turned the economy around. Antigua also claims to have among the strictest programs in the Caribbean. You actually have to show up here to get citizenship, albeit very briefly.
Gaston Browne: Our law provides them to spend at least five days here.
Steve Kroft: That sounds like a vacation.
Gaston Browne: Yes. I understand. But however, we have made sure that at least there must be some face-to-face contact so we know who these people are.
Steve Kroft: For five days.
Gaston Browne: Minimum.
Steve Kroft: What kinda people are you looking for?
Gaston Browne: We’re lookin’ for high net worth individuals. People who are established business people. Who are well-known. And to make sure that we get the crème de la crème.
If so, they are recruiting them in some odd places. Last summer, Antigua announced it was opening an embassy in Baghdad hoping to sell passports to Iraqis. It didn’t work out. But it’s doing better next door in Syria after hiring a relative of President Bashar Al-Assad to represent them.
Steve Kroft: Have you had any applications from Syria?
Gaston Browne: Yes. We have had applications from Syria.
Steve Kroft: And you’ve approved them.
Gaston Browne: Syria is one of the areas in which we have had some concerns but did not place it on a restricted list.
Prime Minister Browne told us instability breeds opportunity. Besides Syria, Antigua has sold citizenship to Iranians, Libyans, Pakistanis, and the people who bought condos in this half-built complex in the desert outside Dubai, 7,300 miles away from Antigua. Its website advertises, “Buy a villa in the UAE and get citizenship of Antigua.”
Steve Kroft: I mean, you said that you were looking for the crème de la crème.
Gaston Browne: Crème de la crème.
Steve Kroft: I mean, there’s a developer in Dubai.
Gaston Browne: Yes.
Steve Kroft: Sweet Homes.
Gaston Browne: Yes.
Steve Kroft: Who is advertising that he’s giving away passports to anyone who buys a condominium there.
Gaston Browne: You don’t believe that, right?
Steve Kroft: Like you open a bank account, you get a free toaster.
Gaston Browne: That is not so.
Browne dismissed the sweet homes ads as advertising hype, saying the citizenship is not free or guaranteed. Somebody has to come up with $250,000 for Antigua and condo buyers must pass a background check.
Gaston Browne: You have to go through all of the due diligence.
Steve Kroft: What kinda due diligence do you do?
Gaston Browne: Well, and that is where the crux of the matter lies.
The prime minister claims that the names of all applicants for Antiguan citizenship are now screened by American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and generally speaking due diligence in the Caribbean has improved substantially since the scandals in St. Kitts. The small island offices with a few people are now backed up by international firms that take the screening to a higher level. But ultimately it’s up to each country to decide who gets a passport, and the Caribbean has a rich history of turning a blind eye to official corruption. It’s affected the way the way passports are handed out, especially diplomatic passports, that entitle the bearer to all sorts of special privileges, which Peter Vincent says represents a much more serious security threat.
PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE
Peter Vincent: The border officials at the receiving country, even without a visa, almost always admit an individual carrying a diplomatic passport. In addition, border forces are not entitled to search the luggage of diplomats like they are for regular tourists. They simply wave them through.
Chronicles of Monte Friesner - Financial Crime Analyst
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