In January 2017 US news outlet CBS News 60 Minutes presented a segment entitled Passports for Sale claiming to expose the shortcomings of the citizenship by investment industry, particularly those programs from the Caribbean, specifically from Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis. But how much of the rhetoric was accurate, or even relevant, and how much is simply outdated scandalmongering, with the potential to damage a vital industry?
In their very first program of the New Year, 60 Minutes included a segment entitled “Passports for Sale” which was a clear debunking of the citizenship by investment industry in general, and the CBI programs of the Caribbean in particular. The basis of the episode seemed to be outdated information pertaining to some dubious characters that had acquired second passports and some security-related scaremongering, ignoring the fact that all of the Caribbean nations offering CBI had recently overhauled their programs which are now of the same high quality as those offered in Europe, which ironically 60 Minutes praised.
CBS (formerly known as the Columbia Broadcasting System) is a US-based commercial television network, and is the flagship and media wing of the New York based CBS Corporation. CBS is one of the four major terrestrial free-to-air TV networks in the US, the others being NBC, ABC and Fox, and these four networks battle it out each night for their share of the enormous 325 million-strong US viewing market. The rise in popularity and power of cable networks like HBO, ESPN and Showtime, plus any amount of internet-based entertainment means that on the whole viewing figures for these networks are down significantly from what they were as recently as the 1990s. Strong ratings are crucial in the terrestrial television industry, as the higher the ratings, the more that can be charged for advertising.
60 Minutes is a once-weekly “newsmagazine” style TV program on CBS News that has been running since 1968 and is broadcast on a Sunday night. The program is currently fronted by 71-year veteran news journalist and presenter Steve Kroft. The program features interviews and reports relevant to the news of that week.
The episode of 60 minutes that was broadcast in January 1 2017 featured reports on the continuing gang-warfare crisis in Chicago, the Cuban rum industry, and a report entitled “Passports for Sale”, with the tagline “Steve Kroft reports on how cash-starved countries offer citizenship for a price, creating ways to ease travel for foreigners, including those running from the law”.
60 Minutes PASSPORTS FOR SALE: The Sham
The segment begins with this opening monologue delivered by Steve Kroft in the 60 Minutes studio:
“If you have been thinking about leaving the United States, moving to another country and changing your nationality, it’s never been easier to do. In this era of globalization, citizenship and passports have become just another commodity to be bought and sold on the international market. All you need is money and a willingness to contribute a few hundred thousand dollars to the treasury of a cash-starved country or acquire a piece of real estate there.
It’s called citizenship by investment and it’s become a $2 billion industry built around people looking for a change of scenery or a change of passport, a new life or maybe a new identity, a getaway from the rat race, or perhaps an escape from an ex-spouse or Interpol. In any event, it’s brought in huge amounts of revenue for the sellers and attracted among the buyers a rogue’s gallery of scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse.”
While good journalism is supposed to provide the facts in an unbiased, neutral manner and then let the reader/viewer draw their own conclusions, 60 Minutes’ producers and writers immediately nail their colors to the mast with this opening salvo as to what kind of a news segment this is going to be, and do their level best to manipulate the audience into seeing things their way.
The tone is set in that opening paragraph with the phrase “cash starved country”, and by the second paragraph 60 Minutes has completely abandoned any thought toward journalistic neutrality with claims that a person can use CBI to get a new identity (er, it’s not that kind of passport!), hide from their ex-spouse or even Interpol (quite a jump there fellas!) and that such programs attract a “rogues gallery” (a Dickensian phrase probably not used regularly since the 18th century – who writes this stuff?) of “scoundrels (more Dickens), fugitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse.”
Much worse than a scoundrel? Is there such a thing?
The program cuts from the studio to the actual island of St. Kitts and Nevis, where we see Steve Kroft ambling happily on a beautiful beach, continuing his narrative. As the camera pans out on a sundrenched island but lingers on an abandoned factory, Kroft continues with his narration, and delivers another non-truth.
“The business was born here in St. Kitts, when Chris Kalin struck a deal with the government a decade ago, following the collapse of the island’s sugar industry.”
The business of citizenship by investment was indeed born in St. Kitts and Nevis, but not in 2007. St. Kitts and Nevis introduced the first ever CBI program way back in 1984, and have continued to operate it ever since. What Chris Kalin did was give the program a much-needed overhaul. Once again, sloppy journalism on 60 Minutes’ behalf. If this was a court case, it would have been thrown out already!
The report then features the 9th Global Citizenship Conference, which took place in Dubai in November 2015, over a year ago. There was no mention whatsoever of the subsequent 10th Global Citizenship Conference, which was held in London in November 2016 at the Savoy Hotel. This is significant because all five Caribbean nations that have CBI programs – St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica and Saint Lucia were represented, and all delivered the latest updates and improvements that had been recently added to their programs. St. Kitts and Nevis in particular are now one of the best run CBI programs in the world, with very tight due diligence and strict procedures in place that match or even exceed international best practices.
As a news program that prides itself on delivering stories and items that are relevant to today, why didn’t CBS hold back on this report for a month or two and then deliver their segment based on up-to-date information, instead of using a year-old story? Because it didn’t quite fit into their agenda?
When Toyota announced in November 2014 that they were recalling 7 million vehicles because they had defective airbags, did 60 Minutes wait until January 2016 to deliver their cutting edge “expose” on the Toyota airbag scandal? Of course not. So why do that exact thing to some tiny Caribbean nations trying to survive by providing a completely legal service, and one that has helped thousands of businesspeople from the second and third world to experience a level playing field with their contemporaries in the US and Europe? To fit an agenda? We’ll examine that a little later.
The CBS footage of the 9th Global Citizenship Conference in Dubai shows it being addressed by Chris Kalin, a tall, slim man in his mid-40s who is very much the corporate face of the citizenship by investment industry. Kalin comes across as a very open, honest, articulate individual, and the fact that he readily gives his time to Kroft and his 60 Minutes team suggests someone with nothing to hide.
Quick question: Don’t you just hate it when a politician or celebrity is interviewed, and then their interview is clearly edited to fit the narrative of a producer who wants to create a scandal or even make the interviewee look like a crook or just a doofus? The audience know it happens, as do celebrities, which is the main reason why the biggest names give the fewest interviews.
And yet that is exactly the tired old hack technique 60 Minutes employed when they interviewed Chris Kalin. Dr. Christian H. Kalin is the biggest name and the most high-profile individual in the CBI industry, and for good reason. Whether you are a fan of Kalin and his company Henley and Partners or not, there is no denying that thanks to his vision and marketing genius, citizenship by investment is indeed a $2 billion-plus industry, countries that previously had little means of survival are now supporting themselves, and thousands of intelligent, ambitious entrepreneurs whose only sin was to be born to a county like Iraq or Somalia or Uganda don’t need to spend the rest of their days being judged and discriminated against, every time they attempt to get on a plane or enter a country or open a foreign bank account or create a new business.
Chris Kalin is a Swiss lawyer who was previously famous for authoring a 766-page handbook on how to do business in Switzerland. The book is still found in every foreign embassy in Switzerland today.
Clearly Kalin is a smart guy who wouldn’t crucify himself or his industry in an interview with 60 Minutes. So the program’s editors had to perform a hatchet job to shape Kalin’s sentences to support the narrative of corruption they wished to foster. Kalin’s comments on how he viewed the St. Kitts and Nevis program during its early years were edited to appear as if he was commenting on the current program that he himself helped set up.
Kalin and Henley and Partners issued this statement shortly after the program was aired:
“Henley & Partners and its Chairman Dr. Kalin are concerned that only small and selective extracts of Dr. Kalin’s carefully differentiated interview were aired, so that the TV program did not reflect his views comprehensively. The comments that were aired have not properly communicated the context in which he spoke.”
60 Minutes PASSPORTS FOR SALE: The Shame
Since St. Kitts and Nevis began operating its CBI program more than three decades ago, as many as 20,000 individuals have acquired its citizenship and passport, and yet 60 Minutes uncovered a total of seven so called “criminals”, none of which they actually named, who were wanted for or suspected of – quote – penny-stock manipulation, embezzlement and bribery. There was a mention of three “suspected Iranian operatives” who were using their passports to “launder money for banks in Tehran” which “drew the ire” of the US Treasury Dept. Iran is a country that doesn’t allow dual citizenship, but nonetheless has many individuals keen to leave the country and acquire Western citizenship. These three poor saps were most likely trying to shift their assets from Tehran to the Caribbean using their St. Kitts passports, which they were perfectly within their rights to do, and for that they were branded as “suspected Iranian operatives” by 60 Minutes.
We then heard the opinion of Mr. Peter Vincent, a former immigration advisor for US customs:
“In my opinion, the global community has established a very effective global security architecture to prevent terrorist attacks. I see these cash for citizenship programs as a gaping hole in that security architecture.”
A gaping hole in that security architecture? Exactly how many terrorists have been proven to have used citizenship by investment programs? The answer to that is a resounding zero.
The Failings Of The US’s Own EB-5 Program
Should CBS and 60 Minutes be pointing the finger at Caribbean CBI programs and their handful of historical embezzlement and bribery cases when they have their very own foreign investor visa program which is fraught with problems?
The US EB-5 investor program was created in 1990 and was set up to give foreign investors the opportunity to establish or purchase a business in America to the tune of $500,000 or $1 million, with a view to becoming first permanent residents, and eventually US citizens. It is a solid program, and the US government grants around 10,000 such visas annually. However, it’s clearly far from perfect in terms of national security.
In 2015 ABC News delivered a series of worrying articles revealing how the US government was handing EB-5 visas over to suspected forgers, fraudsters and criminals, and then speculated that the so-called $500,000 Green Card was a method that suspected criminals, spies and terrorists were buying their way into America.
So much for Mr. Vincent and his theory that “the global community has established a very effective global security architecture to prevent terrorist attacks”. How many of the foreign immigrants that carried out terrorist attacks in both Europe and the US in recent years arrived in those countries by virtue of a citizenship by investment program? Once again, that’s a resounding zero.
And by the way, the above list of “criminals, forgers, fraudsters, spies and terrorists” certainly make the Caribbean’s so called “Rogues Gallery” look like rank amateurs.
Just how perfect is the US immigration system in general? When a city like Los Angeles is home to some of the most fearsome looking South American gang members, including an estimated 10,000 from El Salvador’s notorious MS-13 gang alone? When the US is home to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants?
It’s laughable that a program like 60 Minutes would single out tiny island nations like St. Kitts and Nevis (population 55,000) and Dominica (population 72,000) which are each roughly the size of a small US town, and try and paint them as corrupt countries that are harbingers of corruption when in fact they are doing all they can to keep their collective heads above water.
For example, the cheapest option of the St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship by investment program is a nonrefundable charitable donation of $250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF), which was set up by the St. Kitts and Nevis government in 2006 with the aim of supporting displaced sugar workers (as a result of sugar industry closures), and bring new development to the country, overall benefiting the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. It’s safe to say that without CBI, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis would be living in abject poverty.
The Real Reason For Programs Like CBS 60 Minutes “Passports for Sale”
Anyone who seriously thinks that CBI is the personal domain of international terrorists and drug traffickers has drank too much US government issue Kool-Aid . For those miscreants that want them, there is still very much a thriving false passport industry out there where anyone willing to pay a few thousand dollars will get a brand new passport and identity that will get them wherever they want to go.
Why would a criminally minded individual like a terrorist or a drug trafficker undergo a thorough background check in which they would risk revealing their own criminal history, then shell out anything from $200,000 to $10 million for citizenship when they can get a top-quality counterfeit passport complete with a brand new name for $10,000 or less? They wouldn’t, of course.
All of the individuals who apply for citizenship by investment programs, whether those programs are in the Caribbean or the European Union, are businesspeople. They are entrepreneurs. They are investors. A tiny few may have committed white-collar crimes, but they are not terrorists or drug dealers. Is it fair that America, with a passport that has visa-free access to 174 countries, with $65 trillion in private wealth, a country so geared toward business and capitalism that 10.5 million of the population are millionaires and 540 are billionaires and that number rising annually pours scorn on CBI, a system that gives a break to hungry, ambitious, intelligent people from some of the most God-forsaken countries on the earth?
Caribbean Tax-Haven For US Wealth
Ask yourself this simple question: Logically, why would an American citizen wish to acquire a Caribbean passport? What are the recent historical benefits associated with the Caribbean, aside from sun, sea and sand? You guessed it, discreet offshore banking and tax-shelters.
The real reason why the US government would wish to portray the St. Kitts and Nevis’ CBI program as corrupt and potentially dangerous is because the US loses out in billions of dollars in tax each year because of the trillions of dollars parked up in banks right across the Caribbean.
It’s not just US assets that are stored there; a large chunk of the estimated $30 trillion held in banks in the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Belize and Barbados among others now comes from China, who lose $500 billion a year in assets siphoned out of the country and used to purchase real estate in Europe, North America and Australia or stashed in the Caribbean.
Becoming a citizen of a Caribbean country entitles an individual to enjoy greater banking and tax benefits. And as a Caribbean citizen, an individual has the right to live and work without restriction in any CARICOM (Caribbean Community) nation in much the same way as an EU citizen can live and work in any European Union country. You may have acquired Dominican citizenship – which the most economical CBI program in the Caribbean – but you are free to live your life in a more developed, established island like Jamaica, the Bahamas or Barbados if you so wish.
While many US citizens have indeed acquired Caribbean citizenship, only a tiny few have chosen to live there. The vast majority have purchased it as a second citizenship to use purely for investment and tax avoidance purposes.
Great Publicity For Caribbean CBI
While it’s easy to understand why the US government would wish to tarnish anything pertaining to the use of the Caribbean offshore banking system, it’s harder to imagine what CBS and 60 Minutes’ agenda was for producing such a program as “Passports for Sale”.
The majority shareholder of CBS is 93-year-old Boston billionaire Sumner Redstone, but there is little evidence that he is a hardcore Republican or Donald Trump sympathizer
Regardless of agenda, it’s doubtful that 60 Minutes’ so-called exposé will have done any lasting damage to the Caribbean CBI industry, in fact quite the contrary. If anything, the publicity garnered by a segment on an iconic TV show on a Sunday evening during primetime will have given the citizenship by investment industry its biggest single injection of publicity in its history. Chances are, millions of American millionaires who were not previously aware of the benefits of banking in the Caribbean and the ease of which one can gain a second passport there are now suitably enlightened.
Expect a surge of interest in second citizenship to St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda in 2017, courtesy of 60 Minutes!