Valletta, Malta: Malta's Parliament has voted to sell its citizenship for Sh75 million (650,000 euros), granting buyers a coveted passport that allows them into the 28-nation European Union.
The plan approved Wednesday is expected to go into effect within a few weeks. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat predicts it will bring in Sh3.5 billion (30 million euros) annually and help ease the country's deficit.
Lawmakers from the opposition Nationalist Party opposed the move and vowed to repeal the law and revoke all the citizenships sold if their party returns to power.
As an EU member, Malta's citizens can freely enter and reside in any of the 27 other members and they can stand as candidates for the European Parliament, among other privileges. In Brussels, European Union spokesman Michele Cercone noted that Malta and other members have full sovereignty to decide how and to whom they grant nationality.
Anyone 18 or older will be able to become a citizen of Malta, which has a population of 418,000. Applicants will be checked for criminal backgrounds, but neither investment on the island nor residency will be required. Purchasers will be able to buy Maltese passports for immediate relatives for Sh2.9 million (25,000 euros).
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The prime minister says the plan will attract wealthy individuals "who can help change Malta's economy." A private company promoting the citizenship purchase estimated it will attract some 200-300 buyers each year.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil called the plan's passage by Parliament a "black day for democracy" and raised the possibility of a petition drive to force a referendum on repealing the law.