Dominica’s Golden Passport Scheme: A $1bn Funding

Dominica, a Caribbean state, has sold citizenship to thousands of individuals, including a former Afghan spymaster, a Turkish millionaire convicted of fraud, and a former Libyan colonel under Muammar Gaddafi, according to a first detailed examination of the country’s controversial “golden passports” scheme. The scheme has raised over $1bn (£822m) through its citizenship by investment scheme since 2009.

Dominica’s passports are in demand worldwide and a series of international agreements ensure its citizens travel visa-free to 140 countries, including most EU member states. However, the names of the individuals who paid at least $100,000 (£82,000) a head to acquire Dominican nationality have been difficult to obtain. The Government Accountability Project, a US-based advocacy group, compiled lists of names of thousands of people who became citizens.

The first-ever tally of names published in Dominica’s official government gazette shows that the island state has granted citizenship to 7,700 individuals since 2007, although research suggests there may be thousands more. Most Dominican citizens are Iranian, Chinese, and Russian, and obtaining a Dominica passport can reduce border crossing, business, and bank account opening, but some findings raise questions about transparency and governance, potentially embarrassing for Dominica.

Dominica’s government has been heavily reliant on selling citizenship to fund its public services, accounting for about half of all government revenues. Concerns about the scheme have led to consequences for natural-born Dominicans, with the UK government stopping visa-free travel from Dominica and four other countries in July. Dominica’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, defended the program during press conferences in response to the investigation, comparing the Dominica scheme to the US’s green card, which grants permanent residency rights. Skerrit also made false claims that reporters on the investigation had been paid by opposition politicians in Dominica to try to “destroy” the scheme and likened reporters to arsonists and “terrorists.”

Dominica’s national archives are housed in a modern concrete structure, set among the pastel-painted colonial buildings of the small town of Roseau, the island’s capital. The weekly Dominica Official Gazette is the only official public source of information about the thousands of individuals who have become Dominican citizens. However, the information the gazettes contain is not easily accessible. Last year, the Government Accountability Project took action to improve transparency by examining dozens of gazettes from libraries, private collections, and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, and drawing up a list of every naturalised citizen from 2007 to 2022.

Documents leaked from a hotel developer reveal the names of former Afghan governor Asadullah Khalid and former Libyan colonel Sasi Milud Sasi Grada. Khalid has been accused of human rights abuses and obtained citizenship in 2017, but the allegations have never been tested in court. Grada obtained citizenship in 2015 after fleeing Libya after the civil war.

Under Dominican regulations, citizenship by investment applicants is barred if they have a criminal record. However, one individual, Turkish businessman and former government minister Cavit Çağlar, bought citizenship in 2011 after a prison sentence and a fine for fraud relating to Interbank. In 2010, his sentence was suspended and reduced to one year and nine months in prison, along with a fine. In 2019, he stated he served nine and a half months in prison and was not a criminal. Olay, a representative of Çağlar’s newspaper, declined to comment. Others have faced difficulties obtaining their passports.

Mehdi Ebrahimi Eshratabadi, an Iranian investor wanted in Iran for alleged fraud, obtained Dominican citizenship in 2015 and is currently defending himself in criminal proceedings in Iran. Iraqi investor Nadir Abdulkareem al-Quraishi, who obtained a Dominican passport in 2012 and moved to Dubai, was accused of accepting bribes between 2009 and 2011 to secure contracts for Unaoil clients, leading to a warrant for his arrest.

Kyle Davies, a leading player in cryptocurrencies, appears to have obtained a Dominican passport in 2009 and co-founded the Three Arrows Capital hedge fund in 2012. However, the fund collapsed in 2022, one of a string of financial failures caused by the cryptocurrency crash, leaving investors claiming billions of dollars in losses. Singapore has issued a “committal order” for Davies for failing to cooperate with the liquidation process, but his whereabouts remain unknown.

Golden passport and residency schemes have multiplied in recent years, with Dominica’s scheme being one of the cheapest. Dominica gained independence in 1978 and has sold citizenship since 1993. Sales began to take off after 2015 when a treaty signed with the EU guaranteed visa-free travel in the Schengen area for up to 90 days a year. Anti-corruption campaigners and politicians have long expressed concerns about golden passport regimes, with Transparency International’s Eka Rostomashvili stating that visa-free travel to the EU and the UK has been one of the main selling points of Caribbean citizenship by investment programs.

Golden passports are crucial for Dominica’s economy, as they replace the country’s banana exports, which have been damaged by trade rules. The revenues, estimated at over $1bn since 2009, have become the main source of income for the Dominican government, funding schools, healthcare, and public services. The scheme underwrites economic and social development, and has been used to build thousands of homes, improve healthcare, diversify the economy, and grow agriculture and tourism through hotel construction.

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