Malta Citizenship under Siege: Why Chetcuti Cauchi?

September 24 00:00 2019 by The Editor Print This Article

UPDATED 2023: The Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris found both media executives guilty of "dishonest, criminally reprehensible conduct" and "distortion of the facts in bad faith". 

French media house misrepresented the Maltese Citizenship program in undercover recording of a meeting with Maltese lawyers.  Raw footage obtained in December 2019 by Court Order revealed the claims were fabricated.  In 2023, Chetcuti Cauchi won a landmark defamation case against media group M6 and production company Ligne De Front who caused the media scandal in 2019.  In their defence, the media executives challenged the presentation of their own footage as evidence against them and backtracked on their allegations.  

Chetcuti Cauchi and Maltese Citizenship

Before Malta added investor citizenship to its existing portfolio of investor residency programmes, Chetcuti Cauchi rose up the ranks of Maltese law firms and financial services firms on the strength of its industry focussed approach integrating tax and legal services and catching the wind of Malta's newly acquired EU membership.  In a relatively short span, the unconventional and business-oriented law firm grew into an 80+ strong law firm playing with older firms in the legal and professional services sector.

A front-runner in Investor Citizenship Law

Chetcuti Cauchi’s prominence in investment migration came to the fore with the announcement in early 2014 of its investor clients being the first Maltese citizenship approvals under the newly introduced Malta Individual Investor Programme.  The Malta IIP was designed to attract wealthy families to include Malta in their personal, commercial, and financial lifestyle.  The program only allows their first significant investment leading to naturalisation after one year of legal residence, but subject to successfully passing a 4-tier due diligence verifies their good reputation, clean source of wealth and clean criminal record.

The Malta-based law firm publishes extensive research in the area of investment promotion, investor migration and private wealth, including publications on global citizenship programmes such as the Dual Citizenship Report and the International Comparative Blockchain Report.  One of the firm’s founders, Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti, one of Malta’s Who’s Who Lawyers and well regarded private wealth lawyer is very visible as a guest speaker at several international conferences as a lawyer specialising in investing in Malta, organising family wealth in Malta and other topics of interest to high net worth individuals. Commentators attribute this fact as the possible reason for using him in anti-rich media criticism.

Malta ranks first in Chetcuti Cauchi's CIP Due Diligence Index, that researched due diligence applied by various Citizenship by Investment programmes around the world. Though the firm is not at all involved in politics, its conclusions of the CIP Due Diligence Index were used to back assertions that the Malta’s IIP due diligence was an international gold standard in the field. Another of its studies, the CIP Index, ranks Malta first on objective rating criteria with other European and Non-European investor programmes, and was also seen as giving credibility to the Maltese programme.  Again, this may have attracted the attention of opponents of the MIIP.

Allegations discredited by Court-mandated Evidence 

Raw footage obtained by court order and published by the firm later in January 2020 proves how, even tested in hidden-camera circumstances, the prominent Maltese law firm honourably represents the strictness and seriousness of the IIP's due diligence standard, as well as the selectiveness of the firm's client on-boarding rules.   This follows the conclusion of the Maltese Citizenship Regulator that found no evidence of any preferential treatment being given to the firm and that the volumes of applications processed by the firm were approved on there own merits.


Complete Exoneration for Chetcuti Cauchi; “No Evidence of Collusion,” Citizenship Regulator

Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates main offices in Valletta


Peers' outpour: International colleagues speak up for Chetcuti

Legal practitioners were in admiration of Dr Chetcuti for his professionalism revealed by the raw footage presented.  American attorney David Lesperance, named Dr Chetcuti as the legal personality he admires most in an interview he gave to an industry publication, saying:

I would nominate Jean-Philippe Chetcuti as I hugely respect how he tackled the tyranny and power of the press. The video that was later uncovered showed him acting like a true professional. He laid out the issues involved in the case being presented to him and clearly communicated the limits to the program and the work which he would undertake. In short, he acted like a fiduciary and a professional and not an “I’ll do anything to close the deal” salesperson.

Magisterial Inquiry finds sufficient evidence against French media executives

Our legal correspondent followed up the proceedings of the investigating judge conducting a magisterial inquiry into the actions of Nicolas de Tavernost CEO of the French media group M6.  Chetcuti filed the complaint in January 2020 after winning the first decree ordering him to hand over the original footage and imposing a daily €1,000 fine for obstruction of process. Delayed by COVID-19, in October 2022 an investigating judge was appointed to conduct a magisterial inquiry into the actions of M6 CEO.  After interrogations, the CEO was indicted on March 24th 2021 and arraigned before the Criminal Court of Paris in June 23rd 2021. 

Defence sought to exclude damning footage

Defence submissions by the media executives, seen by this portal, request the judge to expunge / remove from the case the original footage presented by the complainant Chetcuti as evidence of defamation. French legal experts have told us that French criminal law does not allow the complainant to seek a court order forcing the defendants to present evidence that would incriminate them. Yet the conventional defence in a criminal defamation case is the defence of the truth, that is to demonstrate that allegations made were indeed true, backed by evidence.  Legal experts found this twist in the case to be indicative that their own footage would disprove their allegations and would incriminate the media executives.

Accusers become defenders: Journalists facing criminal charges retracts allegations

In an even more surreal twist, the publisher Nicolas de Tavernost of Groupe M6 denied making any claims of impropriety, claiming:

“The plaintiffs (Chetcuti) are thus presented as highly efficient professionals for their clients, in the absence of being able to appeal rejection decisions, knowing then how to implement other available remedies, of which there is nothing to indicate that they would be illegal.”

But the Court would have nothing of it. In its appeal judgement in respect of "Enquête Exclusive" producer Ligne de Front CEO, the Court noted that:

in his conclusions, Bernard DE LA VILLARDIERE indicates that the rushes demonstrate "nothing except that the law firm is indeed opposed to assisting clients with a criminal past", but that, contrary to what he claims, the statement pursued suggests the opposite.”

Appeal Court finds Publisher & Producer guilty of criminal defamation

The French Court of Criminal Appeal allowed the original footage exhibited by Chetcuti to be used as evidence. As a result, in what the Court described as "dishonest, criminally reprehensible conduct" , the Court found Nicolas de Tavernost, chairman of the Groupe M6 and Bernard de La Villardière, CEO of production company Ligne de Front, both guilty of criminal defamation, given that their voiced-over allegations did not correspond to the underlying footage and were a “distortion of the truth” committed in bad faith.


“Distortion of the facts”: French media executives guilty of libel in Chetcuti Cauchi case."

The IIP: Scandal or Blessing?

The introduction of a Malta Individual Investor Programme or MIIP, stirred a lot of controversy given citizenship by investment was a new concept for the Maltese people.  

On the one hand, the Opposition Party claimed the party in power, elected with a significant majority, was disregarding the opposition and springing upon the country a scheme that was never mentioned in their electoral manifesto.  On the other hand, the party in government claimed that the CBI concept promised economic and financial benefit to the country but was unfairly criticised by the Opposition party that thought of the IIP as a scandal. 

The outsourcing of the promotion of the programme to an international consultancy with a background in promoting citizenship programmes in Caribbean islands, raised eyebrows.  The local base of practitioners already enjoyed an excellent track record of Malta's own professional firms professionally promoting Malta's attractiveness outside Malta's shores.

What's Scandalous about the IIP?

Six years after the launch of the IIP, it is clear the country has benefited greatly from the financial inflow into the country.  So what's makes the IIP such a controversial scandal?

Citizenship for Sale

2014 saw the coining of the phrases: "Sale of Passports" and "Passports for Sale".  Objectors to the IIP protest that citizenship should not be for sale as it represents the identity and spirit of people with a real attachment of the country.  

In defence of the IIP, foreign players in the industry have argued that there is nothing wrong in people investing their way into a country, if they have the money as this is a well needed financial boost to the country's economy.  

Chetcuti Cauchi's Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti disagrees. "Citizenship should not be an over-the-counter transaction.  A sale transaction involves the sale of a product to anyone offering the quoted price. With Maltese citizenship by investment, it’s very different. An applicant first acquires residency in Malta, builds at least a year-long track record of connection with Malta that goes beyond physical presence. Meanwhile, a 6- to 8-month due diligence process in 4 levels is under way, requiring extensive disclosures about the personal and financial backgrounds.” Dr Chetcuti continues “Only after one passes all these tests is the financial contribution due to the state. When the contribution is completed, the investor must complete the remainder of the minimum one year residency and only then is citizenship granted to the family applicant....”

"A transaction like this, where money doesn’t guarantee the grant of citizenship cannot be fairly described as a sale of citizenship.”
Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti

Residence & Genuine Connection Requirement

Under the Malta citizenship programme, a successful applicant can't be naturalised as a Maltese citizenship before at least 12 months of residence.  Residence doesn't require physical presence for a full year. However, a residence card must be held for a minimum of 12 months and a sufficient level of integration with Malta should be achieved in order to satisfy this requirement.  In a legal article by senior lawyer Dr Antoine Saliba Haig and Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti, senior tax and immigration partner at Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, this minimum level of connection with Malta is described as 'the "Genuine Link” as required by international law precedents on the subject.