Comoros says abuse of passports-for-cash scheme worries Gulf allies

Comorian passports can be seen in this file photo.(Reuters)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Comoros says abuse of passports-for-cash scheme worries Gulf allies

MORONI: Comoros has sold citizenship to nearly 52,000 foreigners since 2009, the government said in the first official statement on the scale of a passports-for-cash deal with Gulf states.
Most of the documents had been sold under an approved scheme but there had been abuses that led to some Iranians buying passports, which had sparked tensions with Gulf allies, the country's foreign minister said.
Comoros struck a deal with the United Arab Emirates in 2008 to sell economic citizenship to stateless Bidoon people living in the Gulf in exchange for cash for the poor Indian Ocean nation. However, the Comoros parliament is investigating complaints of corruption and procedures not being followed.
The previously undisclosed tally for the number of passports sold means Comoros – a nation of some 800,000 people – should have received more than $260 million in revenues, a sum equivalent to over 40 percent of its gross domestic product.
However, Comoros investigators say large amounts of cash cannot be accounted for.
Sales on hold
A Reuters report last month detailed how some passports had been sold to foreigners outside the original accord, including people alleged to have broken sanctions on Iran.
Comoros Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou said the sale of further passports and renewal of existing documents held by foreigners were on hold pending the parliamentary inquiry and investigations into sales to people outside official agreements.
The government says it has sought help from Interpol and U.S government investigators.
U.S. and Interpol officials contacted by Reuters could not confirm whether an official request had been made.
Some Comoros and Western officials fear that the scheme was hijacked by people looking to bypass sanctions on Iran.
"The vast majority of people who secured passports (outside the official programme) are of Iranian origin or are working for Iran," Foreign Minister Souef Mohamed El Amine said on Friday.


League calls on Italians to back coalition deal with 5-Star

League leader Matteo Salvini, top left, said the new PM would be “a professional with indisputable experience.” (ANSA via AP+)
Updated 5 min 37 sec ago
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League calls on Italians to back coalition deal with 5-Star

  • The government “contract” between the League and the anti-establishment 5-Star was published on Friday after 11 weeks of political stalemate in the euro zone’s third-largest economy
  • The ballot is however seen as symbolic and unlikely to upset the delicate political balance between parties that had been seen as unlikely allies

MILAN: The far-right League gave Italians a chance to bless the program it has drawn up with the 5-Star Movement in an informal ballot as the two groups try to decide on a candidate to lead their planned coalition government.
The government “contract” between the League and the anti-establishment 5-Star, the two parties that won the most votes in the March 4 national election, was published on Friday after 11 weeks of political stalemate in the euro zone’s third-largest economy.
The document calls for billions of euros in tax cuts, increased welfare payments for the poor, and the scrapping of a unpopular pension reform.
It is seen by the two parties as the basis for governing for the full five-year legislative term but got a cool reception from the market and politicians elsewhere in Europe.
Unlike an online vote on Friday by supporters of 5-Star, the League set up 1,000 stands across the country over the weekend, with paper ballots listing 10 of the contract’s main points.
“Citizens appreciate when politicians give them a possibility to express their opinion, especially when people have lost their patience and want results,” said Gianluca Boari, a town councillor and volunteer at one of the stands in Milan.
The ballot is however seen as symbolic and unlikely to upset the delicate political balance between parties that had been seen as unlikely allies.

Mixed views
The decision by the two maverick groups to join forces has upset some of their voters but others say they see this as the only solution for the country.
“I don’t like it at all, (League leader Matteo) Salvini should have said ‘No’. What is this? It’s a terrible compromise for the League,” Veneranda Lorenti, a League supporter, said.
More than 90 percent of almost 45,000 members of 5-Star voted in favor of the program on Friday.
But the plans for the financial sector rattled investors as industry leaders said they could stall a clean-up of bank bad debt and derail a tentative recovery.
“I agree with the idea of an anti-establishment government, they should press ahead with stronger policies in the interest of Italy and (against) the European bureaucracies and the financial oligarchies,” Massimo Wailbacher said as he queued up to vote at one of the stands in Milan.
Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said the weekend would be decisive to finalize talks over a candidate for prime minister and to outline the ministers of a future government.
Both have agreed that neither of them would run as candidate for prime minister. Salvini said the person would be “a professional with indisputable experience,” who had helped draw up the program.
“The premier will be more shifted toward the 5-Star, but not their representative,” deputy secretary of the League Lorenzo Fontana said, explaining this was due to the fact that the Movement had won more votes than the League at elections.
The two party leaders are due on Monday to meet President Sergio Mattarella, who must approve the program and has a final say on their nomination for prime minister.