Mideast wealthy pay $400,000 to check into new life in Caribbean

Author: Greg WilcoxMon, 2017-09-04 03:00ID: 1504466797821122800LONDON: Global political and economic turmoil is hurting many businesses — but not those involved in offering citizenship through investment.
Mohammed Asaria, vice chairman of Range Developments, is one such entrepreneur selling stability in unstable times to people across the Middle East.
He does not pull any punches when asked if by selling citizenship to the wealthy he is making money from misery?
“Instability brings volatility and yes, instability attracts people to our business, it is a driver for it,” Asaria told Arab News during an interview in London.
“Whether that’s actual instability or perceived instability. So yes, the short answer is yes.”
It is honesty that is as refreshing as it is unexpected.
But Asaria — whose company has been selling citizenship to St. Kitts since 2012, Dominica since 2014 and St. Lucia since July, in return for investments into hotels that Range builds and develops —­ doesn’t feel the need to preach the virtues of what he is doing at the expense of ignoring basic facts.
“If everywhere didn’t have any instability and everyone was happy where they were, you wouldn’t see this cosmopolitan diversity (we see here in London).”
While peace and harmony won’t stop people from wanting to spend their summer in the UK capital, it’s clear he has a point — whole countries’ and cities’ make-up and culture have been created by historical woes prompting people to seek pastures new. For Asaria, whose parents were forced to flee Idi Amin’s Uganda and move to the UK, it is just a fact of life.
“You had it here after Brexit where you had people looking for Irish ancestry so they could apply for an Irish passport, the numbers rose by two-thirds last year,” Asaria said.
“That’s a lot of passports and that’s instability caused by Brexit. And yes instability in the Middle East does bring people toward our business.
“But I also think the notion of citizenship has changed over the past few years. Citizenship these days is conferred by birth but also by contribution; be it social, philanthropic or economic.
“St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Dominica have citizenship by investment programs enshrined in their legislation.”
Asaria said business is growing year on year and not just because of global political strife.
“We started in 2012, a year after the Arab Spring. I can’t tell you what happened before ‘12, but we’ve had consistent growth in this business,” he said.
“A lot of the growth is down to more people knowing us and what we do, and another part is that we’re now selling investments in built hotels, so people can see what they’re investing in rather than details on a piece of paper.”
So who are his clients and what makes them seek out citizenship of a Caribbean island in return for a stake in a hotel?
“40 percent of our clients are from the Middle East, 40 percent from China and the rest elsewhere,” Asaria reveals.
“The reasons behind buying citizenship depends on who and where you are. If you’re from China it’s about perceived economic instability.
“If you’re from Lebanon then it’s the political sphere which is going to drive it.
“Then there’s the Palestinians. That poor nationality only have travel documents so they really need a citizenship document. They were my first clients, the first group to come to me.
“Then you look at individuals looking for the travel benefits. People suffering applying for visas, and then certain people who see this as part of their tax plan structure.
“This investment gives people flexibility and options, for their families.”
The cost of the citizenship schemes vary. For an investment in the St. Kitts hotel, a Park Hyatt set to open in November, you’d need to part with $400,000 to buy a share in the hotel, then pay $50,000-$60,000 to the government. If you have a spouse you pay an extra $25,000 and each dependent is another $15,000-$25,000 depending on their age.
What is clear is that Asaria thinks this is a great deal for any investor. Not only do they get a new passport, but also a stake in what he hopes is a profitable business.
“It’s an investment — it should generate you income and capital-appreciation,” he stressed.
“If you look at our website it’s not all about citizenship in 60 days. It’s really promoting the investment in citizenship as an add-on service, which really it is. You are coming in and getting a share of what will hopefully be a profitable hotel.”
Other than the moral questions posed by such a scheme, the other criticism levelled at these types of program is that they could be misused. Back in 2014, for example, the US Treasury Department warned that passports obtained through the St. Kitts scheme had been used to facilitate financial crime.
Asaria, however, said that there are now enough safeguards to prevent any dodgy characters from using the scheme for illegal activities.
“In St. Kitts they have a list of 20 documents you have to supply. It covers everything. They’re looking how you made your money, they don’t want anyone who’s made their money in a funny way coming in, they want to make sure you haven’t committed any crimes and are not likely to commit any crimes.
“They also continue to monitor you for the first five years of your citizenship. If you do something naughty then they revoke your passport. There are stringent methods in place, they do a lot of due diligence, arguably more than some western European countries in giving these investment visas out. They hire professionals and have third-party due diligence so the chances of it being abused are minimized compared to 10 years ago.”
Meeting Asaria you get the feeling that despite a lot of the criticisms directed at these citizenship-for-investment schemes, he truly believes in them and their potential to help people in difficult situations. And not only the clients who fork out a lot for their new passports, but also the islands which give them citizenship.
He takes pride in telling me that 93 percent of the St. Kitts hotel’s opening workforce is local and that the economic impact of its build and associated labor has been huge. He is also animated when revealing the importance of corporate social responsibility programs Range Developments has on the islands; things such as educational scholarships, sponsoring sports festivals and assisting after storms.
“It’s taking a long-term view. If you’re investing millions in a country and that country has welcomed you, it is only right that you do something to give back,” Asaria said.
Main category: Business & Economy

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