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For cashed-up Chinese looking to park their money in a tax-free haven or travel without the constraint of a People’s Republic passport, it is a tempting offer.
For as little as US$130,000 ($187,310), Vanuatu citizenship can be theirs in a matter of weeks without so much as setting foot on the Pacific island.
Now here’s the catch. As far as Beijing is concerned, any Vanuatu passport held by a Chinese citizen is not worth the cost of the chemist’s photo.
Four freshly minted Vanuatu citizens found that out last week when they were taken from a holding cell in Port Vila to a chartered jet bound for the motherland. They are part of a group of six Chinese nationals deported from Vanuatu to face unspecified cybercrime charges.
The spectacle of Chinese and Vanuatu police escorting the detainees across the Port Vila tarmac raises further questions about China’s influence over the former French and British colony.
Jonathan Pryke, the director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands programme, asked: “Who exactly are these individuals? What were the charges laid against them?
“Why were they not formally charged before they were deported? What due process was put in place for the four who had Vanuatu citizenship?
“It also raises significant questions about the Vanuatu government’s very proactive passport sale scheme,” Pryke said.
James Batley, a distinguished policy fellow with the ANU’s Department of Pacific Affairs, said the arrests would increase scrutiny on Vanuatu’s “investment” citizenship programmes which, according to Ministry of Finance and Treasury figures, account for about 30 per cent of all government revenue.
“It has been valuable but this is an example of chickens coming home to roost,” he said.
Vanuatu Minister of Internal Affairs Andrew Napuat said the arrests and deportation were the culmination of a Vanuatu Police Force operation carried out with the help of, and partly funded by, Chinese authorities.
Napuat told the Daily Post in Vanuatu the six were arrested on June 27 after a warrant issued through the local Chinese embassy from the China Public Security Bureau. They were held in custody until last Saturday, when they were repatriated under armed guard to China.
They did not face court in Port Vila and no extradition hearings were conducted.
Napuat said the four Vanuatu passport holders were stripped of their citizenship on the grounds they had committed crimes.
“Vanuatu’s reputation as one of the world’s best tourist destinations remains strong and we do not want to be seen as a country harbouring criminal,” Napuat said.
“To those other foreigners who have obtained Vanuatu passports through the citizenship program, you must understand that the government can revoke your passport at any time if you are caught in illegal acts.”
Since 2015, Vanuatu has invited would-be investors to take out honorary citizenship. It issues more than 1000 passports a month, predominantly to Chinese nationals.
Pacific Stars Consultant Vanuatu is a government-accredited, online citizenship agent which markets directly to Chinese people through the ubiquitous WeChat platform, offering a 30- to 60-day turnaround on new applications.
Among the “privileges” of citizenship, it lists the absence of income and corporate tax and visa-free entry to more than 125 countries including Russia, Britain and all EU member states.
It costs US1$30,000 for a single citizenship and US$180,000 for a family of four. Citizenship, once granted, is hereditary....
SOURCE: THE AUSTRAIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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