Habila Malgwi, is the Regional Head for East and West Africa at Arton Capital, a global financial firm that helps people gain second citizenship of countries of their choices through various investment packages. He told Chineme Okafor, in this interview that Nigerians can legally access the world almost without entry visas. Excerpts:
Tell us about your firm?
Arton Capital is a global financial firm which specialises in citizenship by investment program. We are a trusted advisor to seven governments where we have successfully created some of these programs as a means of bringing in foreign direct investment to those countries. At the moment, we have about 14 programs in 14 different countries where we actually facilitate and help individuals or families in obtaining citizenship through investment.
What is this concept all about?
I would actually say it has been there for a while now. However, we have been able to revamp this whole process. And we’re able to project it much better, especially in Africa.
The concept is such that we looked around the world and realised that governments are in need of foreign direct investments, economies are crashing, natural resources are also going away. Now, we looked at the human part of it, not just the government part of it, and we found out that a lot of people are having issues with traveling – it could be for mobility reasons, it could be for safety, it could be for education or for standard of living and business opportunities.
And, we looked at the fact that there’s a gap between the government needing money and also individuals wanting those particular things that they need, and decided to implement this program called the citizen by investment program where the government can earn money through individuals’ investment and the individuals can gain passports, and this eases the individuals’ stress of traveling which reduces a whole lot of load for them. And also the government is making money to do more infrastructure and create jobs.
Do the passports from this concept allow you all the rights of a citizen?
Absolutely. So, if today, you get a passport from Cyprus, it gives you the same rights as a citizen of Cyprus. It means you become a Cypriot, you have all the benefits and every single facility that is being provided to citizens, and you are also entitled to that.
How many governments and countries are you advising?
We are currently advising several governments; we’re trusted advisor with seven governments. But then we have the programme in 14 other countries. Now, what I’m saying is that we have been able to implement this program with seven governments while the 14 countries are total of where this programs have been laid in. And we’ve been able to tap into an either where they’re probably promoters or the agents.
Do you want to tell me some of these countries?
Yes, there is Cyprus, Malta, Portugal, Bulgaria, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Dominica, the EB five in the United States, and also the Cuban immigration program. At the moment, we are also kicking off with Montenegro, which is getting a lot of traction right now, we also have the United Kingdom programme and also we’re looking at Moldova. Solomon Islands might also come on board.
What about some A-list countries like in the EU?
Some of these countries do not provide this, and what we do is for us, we look at the access. So, if these countries are open and need this program, we’re happy to bring it in. So, we always have to look at these things. We cannot just go in and do programs in any country, we have to be able to access the country to be able to see that we have more traction of people who want to be in those jurisdiction, and also this countries are in need of this resources.
What is the typical process for this programme?
First of all, you need to have a minimum annual income of $100,000 or above 100,000 Euros, depending on the jurisdiction. But generally, this is what it entails. We just don’t on-board clients just like that. We try as much as we can to go through a very strict due diligence process. If you as a client, comes to us today for a Malta passport. We take a data page of your passport and your CV and run a background check on you. If you qualify or you pass our compliance checks and process, then we on-board you as a client. It doesn’t just stop there because by the time we put your file together, and lodge it to the government, it takes them at least three months to launch a due diligence on you as an individual. So, when that due diligence report is done, if you actually pass that, then you get an approval.
Now, the moment you get an approval that is when the investment amount is due for you to pay to the government, so, these are the processes.
Are you challenged by the fact that a lot of countries are closing their borders from foreigners?
We believe that the world is becoming a global village and we believe that the few wealthy ones can open more doors to the mass poor people. This is one of our beliefs and even in the United Nations, it is written boldly that everyone has a right to second citizenship. You have a right to a second nationality. Although yes, we understand that for security reasons, borders are closing up, but you should also remember that you’re not going in through the back door, you’re going in through a legitimate way, through investing with your resources. If today you go to the United States to buy a property, it doesn’t mean that you are a resident of the United States but then you have a property there. America will not close their borders to investors. Every nation is looking for foreign investors to come in and put their money, so if you can invest in that country then there is no issue at all.
Do you encourage non-Nigerians to take Nigerian citizenship in this context just as you encourage Nigerians to take that of others?
You see it’s not about if we encourage other people to take citizenship in Nigeria because we don’t have a program in Nigeria to start with. Secondly, we look at the strength of those passports – can the Nigerian passport take you to Schengen and other European countries? The answer is no! So tell me how many people would actually want to take a Nigerian passport?
However, Nigerians are well-travelled, probably the highest travelled people in the world. Now they want to go to Europe, Canada and other places, so, it is easier for Nigerians to say we want to take citizenship in any country in Europe or in a Caribbean country than for an European to want to take citizenship in Nigeria because there are no more benefits if you look at it. So, even if he takes the Nigerian passport, there is no much benefit because his passport already is taking him to places America and Europe that a Nigerian passport cannot take him. So, if he is taking a Nigerian passport that is probably because he has some other interests in the country. But we don’t have a program in Nigeria, so we don’t sell the country as a product.
Again, how does the low value on Nigeria’s passport affect its citizens generally?
I think we’re losing out on a lot of opportunities. Today, our passport can take us to maybe about 47 or 48 countries. We’re missing out on a whole lot because if little countries in the Caribbean can have access to Schengen and Europe, they are gaining a lot because their citizens have better opportunities for business abroad while our citizens have less opportunity to run business abroad. I would say it’s hurting our economy because there is there just no way to sell Nigeria as a country using its passport. Well, there are resources like oil and anyone coming to Nigeria is coming here because they want to either take the oil or whatever, but not because of the passport, and if the country can enhance the passport then I think it’s going to be a good thing.
What should be done about this?
We have been able to more or less be like consultants for a couple of countries where we stand like middleman in making bilateral agreements with foreign ministries and our doors are open, if they want us to come in as consultants to help them increase the ranking of the passport, we can do.
How wide is Arton’s operations?
We’re the largest in the industry worldwide, and I’ve spoken with a lot of people who says we are professionals and credible. We actually have a little work that we’re doing in Nigeria, we are getting people almost every single day sending us inquiries on these programs. We’re working hard because we believe Nigeria is one of the biggest markets in Africa, and so we’re working a whole lot to see that we cover everyone, and we’re able to assist them.
The whole thing is for Nigerians, it is not about relocation but access to the world. So for example, you have someone who is worth over $200 million with his private jet, but still gets rejected visa once in a while. That wastes his time from flying out to get a business transaction done somewhere and for him, it is easier for him to invest at $2 million euros in Cyprus, or he invest half a million in the United States and he gets a passport that can take him to Europe or anywhere for visa free.
Now, what I need also for people to understand is that this is not about how many visa-free countries you go to, but about your interest and where they lay. We have a tool called the passport index tool where you can check the countries that you need and how many has visa-free passports. With that, you will be shocked that a country like Grenada has about maybe 120 countries or more and can take you to China. So, these are some of the concepts we try to educate people about it.
How many people have you been successful with so far?
In this region, we’ve been able to assist over 20 families to accomplish this. And I tell you 20 because the process is actually not just an easy process. You know, it takes a whole lot. We have had a couple of rejections and our success rate I will say is 100 per cent because the only reasons people are rejected is if they are not sincere. If clients are not sincere, and something is found out by the government, by the due diligence team, you get rejected.
For us as a company being that we have different stages of compliance check, we try to mitigate those risks of you getting rejected.
So, we find out everything from day one. And we’re always happy to reject clients as long as your records are not clean, we’re not helping people to launder funds, and we try to make this clear, and that is why we do what you call a full-blown source of wealth check.
I always have this question about politicians, and I tell people too that we don’t have problems with politically-exposed people as long as they can prove their source of wealth.
It is not a crime to be a politician, there are lots of politicians that have legal source of income.