Second-citizenship business booms amid global strife

Second-citizenship business booms amid global strife
Armand Arton. (Photo: Jonathan Glynn-Smith)
Updated 11 May 2017

Second-citizenship business booms amid global strife

Second-citizenship business booms amid global strife

JEDDAH: Business might be booming for Armand Arton, but that does not necessarily mean the world is a better place.
As president of Arton Capital, the self-described “ambassador of the global citizen movement” helps moneyed individuals — including an increasing number from the Middle East — gain citizenship elsewhere and the all-important second passport that can bring.
But it is a business that is strongly correlated with global upheaval and conflict. The more misery there is, the more people want to move — whether they are a wealthy investor of the kind Arton deals with or a forced migrant in what is the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, our industry is very much linked… with the political stability around the world,” Arton told Arab News.
“Knowing where that is going — it is not rocket science — I can only imagine that our industry will grow directly with that. More of Trump, more of Brexit, North-South Korea, of China, of Russia…” And the list goes on.
Arton Capital, which is headquartered in Montreal, Canada, offers access to investor programs for residence and citizenship in about 12 countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Portugal.
It is one of the biggest players in a niche industry, with a total of about 25 countries offering citizenship-through-investment programs.
Applicants need to meet certain criteria and typically make a donation or investment in the country in which they wish to gain citizenship. For example, someone able to invest at least $500,000 in a targeted commercial sector in the US and create full-time employment for at least 10 qualified US workers, may be eligible for American passports for themselves and family.
This is clearly not something that is open to everyone: Arton estimates the industry as a whole sees about 20,000 to 25,000 families obtain second citizenship through investment each year — a blip on the radar of total global migration.

Middle East unrest
His company takes on between 500-600 cases a year, advising clients on destinations, conducting due diligence on investments and facilitating transactions. Most governments with citizenship-by-investment schemes do not deal directly with individuals, leaving a gap in the market for licensed companies like Arton Capital and its competitors.
The industry has raised billions in funds for participating countries, estimates suggest, and Arton believes that demand for citizenship-by-investment programs will only increase: “I think there will probably be 50 countries in the next 10 years doing it.”
About six in 10 of those looking for second citizenship are Chinese, Arton said. But the Arab Spring saw the number of applicants from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) double.
“The Middle East and North Africa — from Morocco to Afghanistan — used to be about 10 to 15 percent of the global market. Right now, it is 30 percent. That includes Iran, which is a very wealthy country, with a lot of sanctions and restrictions,” Arton said.
Inquires from the Middle East have again picked up since the election of Donald Trump as US president, he added.
“(We’ve had) 50 percent more inquires for second passports from the Middle East since the election,” Arton told Arab News during an interview in London earlier this year.
“People are much more nervous about the extreme right overall… And definitely with the (proposed) travel ban, people are realizing that one passport can very easily be limiting your ability, tomorrow morning, to travel anywhere you want. But by having a few, it will always give you that extra freedom.”

Philanthropic responsibility
Such is the boom in inquiries from the Middle East, that Arton jokingly wonders whether Trump, forever the businessman, might ask for a cut of his revenues.
But another more serious concern is the bad press some citizen-by-investment programs have received. In 2014, for example, the US Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) warned that passports obtained through the St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) program had been used to facilitate financial crime.
“Illicit actors are abusing this program to acquire SKN citizenship in order to mask their identity and geographic background for the purpose of evading the US or international sanctions or engaging in other financial crime,” FinCEN said at the time.
“For example, FinCEN believes that several Iranian nationals designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) have obtained passports issued through the SKN Citizenship-by-Investment program.”
Arton, understandably, is quick to defend his business.
“For every bad guy, there are thousands of good people and good cases,” he told Arab News during a brief visit to the UK capital. “This industry has not only changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who now lead better lives, and have access to great education and medical systems, but also the countries have received so much money.”
Another issue, of course, is that the services Arton Capital offers — helping rich people, many from war-torn countries, gain second passports — is not available to the millions of refugees fleeing conflict zones.
Conscious of this, Arton Capital also has a philanthropic slant. The company insists that its own clients make a donation of between $100 and $1,000, which Arton Capital matches. And Arton himself has even proposed a “global citizen tax” in Europe, under which 2 percent of second-passport applicants’ investments would go to refugee causes.
“Since the refugee crisis of the last three or four years, we have really been in the forefront of making that link, between the wealthy immigrant and the refugee,” he said.
“They come from the same countries — Syrians, Egyptians … While I deal with some of the wealthiest people in these countries, who can afford to invest a couple of hundred thousand or millions to get a better access and better life with their kids, hundreds of thousands of their compatriots are risking their lives crossing the sea, for the same reason: Giving better options to their kids.”
Arton’s own history and Armenian origins have informed his current role and interests as “ambassador of the global citizen movement.” He was born in Bulgaria, but his childhood saw him move from Morocco to Europe and then to Canada.
He is convincing in his explanation of how his business is about much more than just arranging passports for the rich.
“What is a global citizen? It is somebody who understands that, with this extra access that has been provided to him through these programs, he has the obligation, not only an option, to make the world a better place,” said Arton.
“It is not somebody who has a few passports in his pocket and feels like Jason Bourne. It’s more somebody who understands that privilege comes with responsibility.”


Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds

Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds
Updated 23 April 2021

Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds

Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds
  • The value of property transactions jumped 40 percent YOY in March
  • Real-estate agents earned 392 million dirhams in commission in Q1

RIYADH: Dubai real-estate transactions jumped 43 percent year over year in March 2021 to 6,590 as investors flooded back into the sector.

The value of sales rose 40 percent to 22.9 billion dirhams ($6.2 billion), according to the real estate bulletin issued by Dubai Land Department (DLD), WAM reported. The number of transactions was the second highest monthly total since February 2017.

The bulletin highlighted continued attractiveness of the real estate sector to new investors, with 5,683 entering the market in Q1 2021, representing 64 percent of the total number of investors in the period.

The value of commissions achieved by active real estate brokers reached 392 million dirhams in Q1 2021, while 143,374 rental contracts were recorded in Q1 2021, 57 percent of which were new contracts and 43 percent were renewed.

The bulletin highlighted the top five areas for investor attractiveness. In villa sales, Hadaeq Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid topped the list in Q1 2021, followed by Wadi Al Safa 5, Wadi Al Safa 7, Nad Al Sheba 1, and Al Thanyah Fourth. In apartment sales, Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah, Business Bay, Burj Khalifa, and Al Merkadh topped the list in Q1 2021.

Sales of luxury villas, sea-view apartments and second-hand family houses jumped in March, re-energizing a property market that saw a sharp fall in activity at the height of the pandemic and had been in a five-year slump prior to that, Reuters reported at the time.

S&P Global credit analyst Sapna Jagtiani does not expect Dubai’s real estate market to recover to pre-pandemic levels until next year, the agency said.


Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation

Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation
Updated 23 April 2021

Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation

Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation
  • Smart systems help reduce waste and minimize light pollution
  • Red Sea Project wants to be certified by the International Dark Sky Association

RIYADH: All Red Sea Project assets, including resorts, hotels and facilities, run through smart control systems that allow enough light as needed while being careful to save energy consumption and reduce waste, said Myriam Yaniz, director of lighting management at the company.

Red Sea Project is using the technology as it looks to be certified as an International Dark Sky Place by the International Dark Sky Association.

The company reviews different scenarios to know the adequate amount of lighting required during different times of the day and during the different seasons, Yaniz told Al Eqtisadiyah paper, during the World's Earth Day celebration on Thursday.

"At the design stage and during the first meeting of any destination project, our night vision is conveyed to our team of consultants and provided with our list of criteria to ensure that the work is carried out accordingly," she said.

Red Sea Project is a land and property development on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast announced by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in July 2017.


Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February

Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February
Updated 23 April 2021

Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February

Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February
  • Bank deposit growth was the fastest since March 2020

RIYADH: Bank deposits in Saudi Arabia grew during February at the fastest pace since March 2020 as the economy continued to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Deposits reached SR1.96 trillion ($522.5 billion) at the end of February, an increase of 1.83 percent, the most since the previous March’s 1.92 percent gain, Al Eqtisadiah reported, citing SAMA data.

On an annual basis, bank deposits in Saudi Arabia increased by 10.2 percent, or SR180.47 billion. Individual and corporate deposits, which made up 74.6 percent of total deposits, increased by 9.8 percent year over year.

Demand deposits increased 14.2 percent to SR1.29 trillion in the 12 months to the end of February, making up 88 percent of total deposits with savings and foreign deposits accounting for the rest.


Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts
Updated 23 April 2021

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts
CAIRO: Egypt and Russia have agreed to resume all flights between the two countries in a call between their presidents, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement.
Flights to resort destinations Sharm Al-Sheikh and Hurghada were suspended after a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai in October 2015, killing 224 people.
The Egyptian statement did not specify a timeline for the resumption of flights, but Russia’s Interfax news agency reported this week that flights could resume in the second half of May.
An Airbus A321, operated by Metrojet, had been taking Russian holiday makers home from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg in 2015, when it broke up over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all on board. A group affiliated with Daesh militants claimed responsibility.
The decision to resume flights followed “the joint cooperation between the two sides on this issue, and based on the standards of security and convenience provided for visits at Egyptian tourist destination airports,” the statement said.

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform
Updated 23 April 2021

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform
  • Egypt lowered fuel prices in October 2019 following protests
  • Egypt phased out fuel subsidies on the advice of the IMF

RIYADH: Egypt’s price-setting committee raised domestic fuel prices on Friday for the first time since it was formed in October 2019 following the completion of subsidy reforms, the petroleum ministry said in a statement.

Prices were last raised in July 2019 when Egypt, a net oil importer, finished phasing out subsides on fuel products as part of a reform program backed by the International Monetary Fund. Prices had remained stable over the past year after being lowered in April 2020 and October 2019.

The prices of 80-octane, 92-octane, and 95-octane fuel were raised by 0.25 Egyptian pounds each, to 6.25 Egyptian pounds ($0.40), 7.5, and 8.5 pounds per liter, respectively, the statement said.

The pricing committee’s mechanism links energy prices to international markets, and takes into account the exchange rate as well as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the statement said.

Egypt lowered fuel prices in October 2019 following several rounds of price hikes as part of an austerity program that triggered discontent, including protests against President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.