UPDATE: A previous version of this article (remaining in italicized print below) reported on news that Malta would end its policy of publishing the names of naturalized citizens in its gazette. A few minutes ago, however, Malta’s Ministry of Home Affairs reached out to IMI informing us that it will roll back that provision following a consultation with stakeholders, one day after the change was first reported in Maltese media.
Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, the Junior Minister for Citizenship, explained that “in view of the fact that this clause can be interpreted as casting some doubt on the great work done to enhance transparency, the government has listened and is taking note of the concerns raised and will remove it from the legal notice,” according to Times of Malta.
The formulation in the legal notice, he explained, had been intended for “very specific circumstances” but would now be removed as “another sign of transparency. All the changes that have been made have been prepared in a positive spirit of good governance and the strengthening of a program that has greatly benefited the Maltese people.”
Until now, Maltese law required the publishing of the names of new citizens once a year in a government gazette. Following the issuance of a legal notice on November 30th, however, the decision of whether to publish the names of new citizens or of individuals whose citizenship has been revoked will be at the absolute discretion of the Minister for Home Affairs.
What prompted the rule-change, according to the legal notice, was “reasons of security”, presumably referring to the risks posed by the publishing of sensitive personal data in connection with CIP-based naturalization. The change in policy is an unexpected turn of events, particularly in light of the bipartisan consensus in favor of continued publication that emerged in Malta some two years ago.
The news will be welcomed by investment migration practitioners and observers, who have long argued that such publication not only constitutes a violation of individual privacy rights – which are just as valid as, but conflict with, the interest of transparency – but could also potentially endanger the citizen’s personal safety.
In a 2019 article in IMI, three scholars of European law cautioned against ignoring the “possible steep negative consequences such publication could have for the new citizens, including potential interference with business or financial interests in the original or new state of nationality.” They also pointed out that though practices differed widely between countries, the overall trend in Europe was moving away from publication and toward privacy.
“This is great news,” said Arton Capital’s Philippe May. “The publication and gazetting of the names of new citizens prevents many applicants from countries that don’t allow dual citizenship from choosing certain programs. Now they can be exempted from public naming.”
Malta’s political opposition, on the contrary, expressed dismay at the decision. Karol Aquilina, the opposition’s spokesman on matters related to citizenship, called the change “unacceptable” and accused the government of wanting to add secrecy to the program, according to the Times of Malta.
In Cyprus, another country that, until recently, operated a CIP, Data Protection Commissioner Irini Loizidou has intervened on several occasions where MPs or members of the public have called for publication of naturalized investors’ names, as well as ordering the removal of articles that published names from a leaked list of CIP investors.
To be sure, though the Minister of Home Affairs will now have the discretion to exempt names from publishing, he may choose not to exercise – or to only occasionally exercise – that right. The default policy will still be to publish, and the Minister would have to actively intervene to prevent publication.
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