Malta has seen its fair share of passport and citizenship fraud over the years, but perhaps nothing is quite as outlandish as being a money-laundering base for scammers selling citizenships for a fictional “Antarctic theocratic sovereign state of St George”.
Italian scammers have devised a novel way to sell passports to a rumored newly formed Antarctic state, where they are exempt from Italian taxation, are subject to just five taxes per rate and are exempt from Covid vaccination rules.
But before Italian police pulled the plug on the operation and made a dozen arrests earlier this week, more than 700 people had already fallen for the scam, believing they had become citizens of a fledgling Antarctic nation.
The Maltese Money Laundering Connection
According to a statement released on Thursday by Italy’s Polizia di Stato (State Police), Malta played a not inconsiderable role in the operation, as it was there that the illicit profits were laundered and a representative of the fledgling state was to be stationed.
The Polizia di Stato stated: “The fraudulent sums amount to around 400,000 euros laundered through a foreign account on Maltese territory, where a representative of the state would also be based.”
In all, Italian police have placed 12 people under house arrest for their involvement in the scam. They are accused of money laundering, conspiracy, fraud and the production and possession of forged documents. The Italian police reported that another 30 people were also being investigated.
The Italians’ investigation began in April 2021 after a search of the Antarctic “state’s” alleged diplomatic headquarters in Catanzaro, when agents from Italy’s Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali (Division for General Investigations and Special Operations, DIGOS) were following up on a lead. that drug trafficking was taking place on the premises.
€200 to €1,000 for Antarctic citizenship
More than 700 Italians and residents of Italy fell for the trick into believing they were citizens of the non-existent Antarctic state. They each paid between 200 and 1,000 euros for the unique privilege.
According to Italian police, when they became “citizens” they should have received attractive incentives such as B. generous funding for research projects, leaner bureaucracy and less bureaucracy for companies, and the use of Antarctic state passports to travel freely throughout Italy and overseas.
The most attractive benefit of all, however, was the five percent tax rate offered to new citizens. At least two cases, according to the Italian police report, involved the sale of land in Antarctica with associated noble titles.
The scheme was elaborate, with a series of fake government institutions, an official government bulletin, ID documents, a website and a Facebook page created to fool people.
The gang even went so far as to have produced fake ID documents, such as passports and diplomatic IDs, which Italian police say “fully conform to international standards”.
According to the Italian State Police, the documents were used by “citizens” in hotels in Italy and abroad, during police checks, at airports and for “illegal drug trafficking”.
Among those arrested this week were a former Guardia di Finanza (fiscal police) general, 72-year-old Mario Farnesi, and a former Carabinieri (paramilitary police) warrant officer, 56-year-old Emanuele Frasca.
More details on how Malta was intended to be used as a money laundering and diplomatic base for the fictional are expected to emerge once prosecutions begin in Italy.