In recent days however, the government has been defending itself and the program and in its latest argument it has launched a counter attack on the former PAM/NRP Administration, but even this has led to more opposition condemnation.
Even at times when it seemed that some respite was near, new episodes were occasioned by media exposure of cases where persons holding passports gained through the program, were found to be abusing the system.
Even the US Government, in recent weeks, chimed in, saying that it had evidence to suggest that there were “Illicit actors abusing this program to acquire SKN Citizenship in order to mask their identity and geographic background for the purpose of evading U.S. or international sanctions or engaging in other financial crime. Some of those referred to by the US are nationals of Iran who did obtain their passports through the Citizenship By Investment Program, stated the US in an advisory they issued against St. Kitts and Nevis warning American banks and businesses to be careful when dealing with such persons.
The Government says it is taking steps to fill the gaps that could lead to greater transparency and accountability and has established a special committee in that regard.
Since taking office in 1995, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas argues that his government has made many changes to make the program more accessible to various stakeholders. He said they have allowed more lawyers to participate as service providers; established new option known as the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation, (SIDF) and; increased the value of investment in property.
But the government has not stopped their in its reaction to opposition critics, targeting its recent “finger pointing” to PAM and its former top government officials. They have argued that when the program was first started only one lawyer, close to the then government was allowed to act as a service provider. Today, said Douglas,
Douglas indicates that all lawyers can now participate and so too other players like accountants have been allowed as service providers processing applications for citizenship. He said they also abandoned the investment in bonds because they were being advised then, that this was one of the vehicles through which money laundering was taking place in the country.
“We also made sure that our new citizens who were being invited to invest in our country and being given citizenship, that they were not only asked to invest in real estate, but we created back in 2006, the new option of investing in the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF), which we did because we wanted to make sure that as we transition out of sugar on the closing of the Sugar Industry in 2005; that we would have had capital, enough money to do a number of things such as provide new opportunities for training for our people, to fund new projects, to ensure that we would develop and finance interest in businesses, we would also have the opportunities to finance individuals and Government agencies all throughout the entire Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis,” the St. Kitts and Nevis leader said.
Douglas also stated that on September 15th 2011, the programme was revisited when a number of regulations were amended to emphasize that it was an investment programme.
In a release from his press office, the Prime Minister emphasized, “This was not any programme of selling passports, this was a programme of investment and after successfully investing and doing the due diligence checks and persons were found to be clean, then we invited them to become citizens. Citizenship was not automatic. You invested, you were proven to be clean and then you were invited to become a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis. We also during 2011 in revisiting and amending the regulations increased the investment amount. We realized that the value of property has increased dramatically and so we moved from US$200,000 for investment to where it is today which is now US$400,000.”
“We increased as well the amount that you would invest in the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation and we also increased the fees which the government was charging for processing the applications of those who wanted to invest in our country through the Citizenship by Investment Programme. We also wanted to make sure in 2011, that we would make the programme much more robust as we wanted to preserve the integrity of the programme so that it would not just be another programme involving immigration and investment like what we have in Canada, in the United States of America, in England, in several countries in Europe, and in Asia. We wanted it to be the top programme around the world and we were succeeding in doing that,” stated Douglas.