By Juliana Schifferes
Island nation Dominica’s Citizenship-by-Investment program is a “golden passport” program that allows international businessmen, politicians and sometimes criminals to buy their way into citizenship for the minimum fee of 100,000 dollars. Who are these new emigres—and why do they need a new passport? As revealed by Government Accountability Investigator Zack Kopplin, some of them have dark reasons.
Our first profile subject is Aman Lohia, who unthinkably removed his toddler from her home and absconded with her. It’s bizarre to imagine a country giving a kidnapper leeway to emigrate there. But under island nation Dominica’s Citizenship-by-Investment program, any paying party is par for the course as long as they can pay the exorbitant fees required for citizenship.
When Lohia removed his daughter from Dubai and fled with her, he lived for some time with a degree of impunity. This was acquired through Dominica’s passport system. Happily, Lohia and his daughter were eventually returned to his home of India for sentencing while his daughter was put in a safer situation. But Lohia’s daughter may not so quickly forget she was used as a tool by her father, and neither should those interested in justice.
Why would Dominica permit him to flee to their country when he endangered his own daughter? Lohia descends from a billionaire family and was more than able to pay the minimum 100,000 dollar entry. Dominica has angled itself, meanwhile, as a playground for the rich. This includes luxury hotels and real estate. It is a land of impunity and luxury, allowing the passport holders to stay hidden while avoiding jail time—and perhaps even finding a chance to party in the process.
This focus on evading responsibility is borne out in how Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica, approaches the program. In a press conference, he put effort into attacking journalists and denying any problems with the policy, including harboring active criminals, claiming that “We have professed to have a robust system that we go through in different layers of due diligence, and if somebody were to become a citizen of today and tomorrow morning the person goes and does something and finds himself in problem with the law, you can’t blame the programme for that.”
But what is the end result of “not blaming the program”? Beyond Lohia, another notable example is God Nisanov. Nisanov held significant power, as a real estate mogul and a Putin crony, within Russia before the war in Ukraine. In fact, in the early stages of the war he helped finance the attack; and even helped encourage the Russian government not to interfere with the humanitarian catastrophe in the latest Nagorno-Karabakh debacle. As a financier of ill-advised foreign policy adventures, Nisanov has direct responsibility for some of the suffering for both conflicts, even post-sanctions. According to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, he is associated with bribery and corruption amongst high level politicians—lending credence to his alleged power to influence Putin to not intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We should be very concerned about his further machinations, given the protections afforded by Dominican citizenship. Allowing Nisanov to partially evade sanctions could result in Dominica’s indirect collusion with the Russian regime, consequences supposedly far outside of the purview of a revenue generating device.
Zarakh Iliev, Nisanov’s business partner, faces similar charges. According to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, they are both guilty of influence peddling, using their vast real estate empire, and related cash, to leverage this. He is, like his partner, also a funder of the Putin regime and now an international pariah. Presumably in dire straits, it simply appears he can simply switch his nationality and at least temporarily escape. When Malta, a European Union country, tried a similar program to Citizenship-by-Investment, it was tried in court for the dangers the program could pose to its peer nations. It is now clear what those potential dangers are. Not only are Iliev and Nisanov able and willing to use power to bend politics at home, but they can now bend them afar or even in new, completely different countries.
Why does this investigation matter? Ultimately, these items are all part of one larger cause: the search to uncover the truth. Borne amongst the wreckage of the Watergate investigation, our organization has been inspired to combat wrongdoing and thus leveraged the truth as currency no matter what the cause or injustice at hand. And this will not end with Kopplin’s latest investigation.