Is Icelandic citizenship for sale?

As the US cracks down on citizens with offshore bank accounts, 10 ‘golden geese’ are hoping to buy their way into Iceland

Alda Sigmundsdóttir

On Saturday, Icelanders will go to the polls to vote on the whether their country should repay the British and Dutch governments for the losses incurred when the internet bank Icesave went bust in 2008. The opposing yes and no camps have been running a fierce campaign battle, and the national conversation has been completely dominated by the dispute. Indeed, mention the word “Icesave” to Icelanders, and most want to run for cover. Which is why the matter of the “golden geese” last week provided something of a welcome respite.

The story took most everyone by surprise. Ten mega-rich investors from the US and Canada had contacted Icelandic authorities and were pledging to invest up to $15bn into our cash-strapped economy. All they wanted was a teeny-weeny favour in return: Icelandic citizenship for themselves and their children.

To the glib observer, the deal certainly sounded attractive. The tycoons’ Canadian attorney, one David Lesperance, gushed to Iceland’s national public-service broadcaster RÚV that the group had been so taken with the country that they wanted to “join team Iceland”. They were, he said, “motivated beyond money” and were primarily looking to invest in the country for political and philanthropic reasons.

When the reporter sounded doubtful, he quickly added that they were also concerned about the number of nuclear power plants being built where they lived, and about their children being drafted into the military. Neither of which would happen if they lived in Iceland.

Icelandic citizenship, like citizenship in most countries, is usually not up for sale. Potential candidates have had to fulfil stringent requirements, including having lived in the country for a number of years. Currently there are two high-profile cases pending, involving women who have had applications for residency in Iceland denied. Both have widespread support among the general public and are currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal.

That the head of the Icelandic parliament’s general committee seemed to support the tycoons’ application – or at least not to outright reject it – has caused massive indignation. In conversation with RÚV he said that it should at least be given due consideration, stated (wrongly) that other countries, such as Canada and Australia, offered citizenship to solvent, wealthy investors, and reminded viewers that Icelandic citizenship had been granted under exceptional circumstances in the past – most famously in the case of former chess champion Bobby Fischer.

Full article here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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