By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts -- St Kitts and Nevis (SKN) Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas said his government remains committed to working with regional and international allies in bringing changes to the country’s citizenship-by-investment program.
According to an advisory issued on Tuesday by the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), foreign individuals are abusing the SKN citizenship-by-investment program to obtain SKN passports for the purpose of engaging in illicit financial activity.
“While many countries offer programs similar to the SKN citizenship-by-investment program, the SKN program is attractive to illicit actors because the program, as administered, maintains lax controls as to who may be granted citizenship,” the FinCEN advisory read.
However, while the SKN government has previously pledged to improve these controls, FinCEN believes that they remain ineffective.
For example, in 2013 the SKN government announced that all Iranian nationals were suspended from participating in the SKN citizenship-by-investment program. Despite this public assurance, FinCEN believes that Iranian nationals continue to obtain passports issued through the program.
The SKN citizenship-by-investment program offers citizenship to a non-citizen who either invests in designated real estate with a value of at least US$400,000 or contributes US$250,000 to the St Kitts and Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.
Specifically, FinCEN believes that illicit actors are abusing the SKN program to acquire citizenship in order to mask their identity and geographic background for the purpose of evading US or international sanctions or engaging in other financial crime.
For example, FinCEN said that several Iranian nationals designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) have obtained passports issued through the SKN citizenship-by-investment program.
As a result of lax controls, illicit actors, including individuals intending to use the secondary citizenship to evade sanctions, can obtain an SKN passport with relative ease.
St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas at Wednesday's press conference (Photo by Erasmus Williams)
On Wednesday, Douglas announced that SKN will establish an advisory board comprised of eminent SKN citizens from both public and private sectors in order to protect and defend the country’s citizenship-by-investment program.
He said his government has long stressed a commitment to working with regional and international allies to halt the spread of international crime, and the citizenship-by-investment program is no exception in this regard.
“We are in the process of determining at this moment exactly what changes, if any, should be made to the program,” Douglas said.
Douglas claimed that the security measures of the citizenship-by-investment program are robust and the Unit works alongside national agencies to ensure good governance.
“This we will continue to do,” Douglas said, pointing out that criminals become ever more ingenious at finding ways to break the law and SKN, like all other countries, “needs to ensure that we stay ahead of these types with constant review and constant upgrading of our security checks.”
“The government is aware of the new and emerging threats posed by transnational organized criminal activities and we have prioritized training in areas such as cyber-crime to assist in detection and apprehension,” he said.
He said it is already a matter of established policy that SKN will revoke citizenship if any SKN economic citizen becomes involved in criminality.
“This is a current policy. And we will not hesitate to enforce it. It is in our nation’s interest to ensure there is continued confidence in our CBI programme and so we will be certain to enhance our security measures as appropriate,” the prime minister said.