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Dollar passport blows up in St. Kitts’ government’s face

Bert Wilkinson | 12/5/2013, 11:54 a.m.

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but authorities in the tiny Eastern Caribbean federation of St. Kitts and Nevis are under pressure to explain to the international community how an ambitious scheme they have in place to sell citizenship and national passports to foreigners will not land documents in the hands of the wrong people or embarrass governments.

In the past few weeks, the administration of Prime Minister Denzil Douglas has been on the back foot trying to convince Canadian and local officials that an Iranian man it had appointed as a special envoy to Azerbaijan and Turkey had not, in fact, paid for the privilege of traveling with a federation diplomatic passport as he tried to enter Canada.

The federation isn’t the only one with this program; several Caribbean trade bloc countries have active economic citizenship programs in place, by which foreigners pay specific amounts of money in cash and invest in specified projects to qualify them for citizenship and the right to travel on passports of the countries of the new naturalization.

In the case of Iranian Alizera Moghadam, authorities are refuting claims that he had paid $1 million for a diplomatic passport, which he used to travel to Canada. This caused diplomatic embarrassment when border control officials questioned the authenticity of the passport and his right to have such a document in his possession.

Opposition leaders like former Foreign Affairs Minister Timothy Harris raised the issue at home in recent days, forcing Douglas to publicly state that it was not possible to obtain a diplomatic travel document by “making an investment or by any form of payment or consideration.” The Iranian has said that he had paid up fully for the right to have and use his passport.

But since the controversy erupted over the Iranian, authorities have announced that “place of birth” will now be printed on economic citizenship passports to avoid any repeat of the problems the scheme has raised. The government of the twin island federation also rushed off to make a full statement on the issue, clarifying the way things are done and who qualifies for passports.

“Diplomatic passports are not issued as part of the citizenship by investment program. Hence, it is not possible to obtain a diplomatic passport by making an investment or by any form of payment or consideration,” the government statement said. “Diplomatic appointments are made on the recommendation of Cabinet after a very careful selection process aimed at ensuring that the persons selected are of good character and possess the capacity to advance the development of the federation through effective representation overseas.”

Other countries raising revenue through this scheme are Grenada and Antigua, as well as countries such as Greece, the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia.