O'Donoghue says he will study bona fides of passport-holders

 

The Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, has indicated he is willing to examine any new information about the bona fides of people who became Irish citizens through the controversial passports for investment scheme with a view to possibly revoking them.

A spokesman for the Minister told The Irish Times Mr O'Donoghue would today carefully examine a video recording of RTE's Prime Time programme, broadcast last night, which claimed that the holder of one of these passports, a native of the Czech Republic, had been involved in a huge financial swindle.

The passports scheme, scrapped earlier this year, allowed wealthy non-nationals to secure Irish citizenship in return for investing £1 million or more in industry here.

Mr Viktor Kozeny was naturalised as an Irish citizen in 1995 under the rainbow coalition in return for investment in an Irish software company.

The then minister for justice, Mrs Nora Owen, told Prime Time that when Mr Kozeny's passport was granted "we got an assurance that people were not wanted by the law in the country where they live, and that was the scheme as it operated".

"I thought it was perfectly satisfactory to seek such a police report and, if a satisfactory report came in, you had to take that as being honest and fair," she added.

However, according to Prime Time, at the time Mr Kozeny applied for an Irish passport he had an FBI file accusing him of being a KGB agent; was under investigation by the Czech police on suspicion of buying state secrets; and was under investigation by the Czech finance ministry for unethical share dealings.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it was the norm under the scheme that the authorities in Ireland would establish if an applicant had a criminal record in his or her own country.

The reply from the Czech police in this instance was "No".

A number of media reports showed Mr Kozeny made a fortune out of Czech privatisation in the early 1990s. His business was called Harvard Capital & Consulting and took advantage of the privatisation of Czech industry in 1993 when citizens were offered vouchers to invest in share holdings.

In a highly-publicised campaign, he invited people to give their vouchers to him, with the promise of an impressive return. It is estimated that over 800,000 gave over their vouchers, but when share prices fell, their life savings vanished.

However, Mr Kozeny did not lose and recouped millions of pounds from returns on his shareholders' investments. According to Prime Time, he is now about to implement a similar scheme in Azerbaijan.