`Passports for sale' scheme is abolished

 

The government has finally abolished the "passports for sale" scheme, thus ending a political controversy which helped end one political career and damaged several political reputations.

The decision was announced last night by the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, at the end of yesterday's day-long Cabinet meeting. The Government had suspended the scheme when it took office last July, and decided in principle in October to scrap it.

Under the scheme, introduced in 1984, applicants seeking naturalisation had to make an investment of £1 million per person in the State. The investment had to be for job creation or job maintenance. A substantial residence in Ireland also had to be purchased by the applicant.

However, controversy arose over the scheme when details of it became generally known in 1994. Up to then, the public knew nothing of it but this changed that year when it emerged that a wealthy Saudi businessman, Mr Khalid Sabih Masri, had two years earlier invested £1.1 million in C & D Pet Foods, the company owned by the family of Mr Albert Reynolds, as part of a citizenship application.

Controversy arose in relation to a number of other decisions, most notably those involving 11 Saudi Arabian and Pakistani nationals in December 1990. The naturalisation forms for these - the Mahfouz passports - were signed by the then Minister for Justice, Mr Ray Burke, in his house in December 1990.

He signed them after receiving a recommendation from the then Taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey. Mr Haughey is reported to have handed over the passports personally to the Mahfouz party in Dublin the following day.

Defenders of the scheme said it brought investment to certain firms facing crises at crucial times, saving jobs in the process.

Mr O'Donoghue said last night it always had been, and still was, open to would-be investors to seek business permission to reside in the State.

"Persons who have availed of such permission have always been in a position to apply, at a later stage, for naturalisation under the relevant provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts."

He said he would now process outstanding cases which were on hand when he was appointed Minister. These cases would be dealt with through the formal assessment process already in place since 1994 - which includes the involvement of an inter-departmental advisory group operating within set terms of reference.