Malta stopped the sale of citizenship and passports to applicants from Russia and Belarus on Wednesday, saying it could not carry out proper due diligence in the current turmoil.
The Mediterranean island controversially started selling its passports in 2014 in what is officially called the citizenship by investment programme.
Prime Minister Robert Abela initially resisted calls to halt sales to applicants from Russia and its ally Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine, saying the programme had raised hundreds of millions of euros and enabled Malta to give generous assistance to businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.
But on Wednesday, the agency responsible for processing requests said the scheme was suspended for Russians and Belarusians because “recent developments” meant the necessary checks on prospective buyers could not be done.
The scheme allows wealthy foreigners to get citizenship in exchange for an investment of around 1 million euros ($1.1 million) with Maltese passports granting holders full access to the European Union. Russians have accounted for well over a quarter of all those who have bought citizenship.
The European Commission warned in 2019 that so-called golden passport and golden visa schemes offered by a small number of EU states posed money-laundering and organised crime risks.