Investigation Reveals Thousands Who Bought ‘Golden Passports’ From Dominica
OCCRP, the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit the Government Accountability Project, and more than a dozen media partners have obtained the names of 7,700 people who bought into Dominica’s ‘citizenship by investment’ program which allows the purchase of a passport for a base price of $100,000. These passports allow visa-free or “visa on arrival” travel to more than 130 countries and territories, including the European Union. The number of Iranians on this list is astonishing, reaching 1,500 people between the years 2007 and 2018 alone.
A Rogues Gallery
Reporters discovered multiple troubling cases among the roughly 7,700 new Dominican passport holders — a list that is not believed to be complete.
In some cases, questionable individuals used Dominica passports to set up companies long after being accused of crimes elsewhere. The list includes oligarchs, officials from repressive regimes, and politicians — like the former Prime Minister of Jordan. Reporters also found many new “Dominicans” who were later investigated.
Among the Iranians who purchased Dominica passports, there are several criminals, ex-criminals, fraudsters, tax evaders, thieves, and bribe-takers, many of which are cronies or family members of Islamic Republic officials and their circle of power. In the investigative reports on Zamaneh, we take a closer look at the Iranians who obtained, through purchase, the ‘Golden Passport’ of the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Dominica’s road to becoming a global passport hub was paved, at least in part, out of economic necessity.
By the 2000s, the island’s crucial banana industry had been rocked by a World Trade Organization ruling that eliminated the favorable treatment it received from several European countries. That decision, as well as a couple of devastating hurricanes, plunged the island into crisis.
In 1993, the island legalized citizenship by investment and has since sold several thousands of individuals citizenship status of the commonwealth of Dominica.
Iranians and their passports
Hundreds of years ago, Iranians used to cross borders with caravans for recreational or pilgrimage trips without the need for administrative and legal formalities, but this is no longer the reality today. Every day, it becomes more and more challenging to obtain a visa, especially for Iranians who possess the burgundy-colored passport decorated with the symbol of ‘Allah.’ Well, unless you have the extra cash, that’s a different story.
Iranians capable of paying the $100,000 base broker cost and with all its fees and donations into the government’s account could sit back, relax, and wait without putting a single foot on the island.
Within a few months, they would receive a dark blue-colored passport. This time, instead of ‘Allah,’ two Imperial Amazon parrots marked their brand-new passports.
Iranians who up until this point had to stand in line at European embassies, could now travel to nearly 140 countries sans visa. Instead of presenting their burgundy passports stamped with ‘Allah’ to the border control officer, they flaunted their dark blue passports featuring two Imperial Amazon parrots sitting opposite each other, which opened all the gates for them.
The parrot passport was more than just a passport, but rather, a lifelong badge that could be passed on to the next generation.
The New-Dominican Iranians
Between 2007 and 2018, at least 1,400 Iranians obtained Dominica passports – a number that will most likely increase to several thousand after three decades of this program.
Among the thousands of names, there are Iranians from a variety of backgrounds who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into this small island for obtaining the desirable Dominica passport.
Amongst the long list, owners of all kinds of dubious companies, board members, brand owners, and famous and unknown business people can be found. Several hundred doctors and dentists still practicing medicine in Iran have obtained Dominica passports along with their families.
Owners of money exchange companies, managers of small and large companies in the free trade zones of Kish, Qeshm, Julfa, Arvand, Aras, mass builders, government contractors, members of the board of directors and owners of companies in the fields of oil, gas, petrochemicals and drilling – the list is endless.
Families that own shipping and transportation companies, heads of sports federations, miners, entrepreneurs who merely carry the title of entrepreneurship, people who amass wealth from the auto industry, famous fraudsters as well as lesser-known charlatans, nose job surgeons, hymen stitchers, renowned pop singers, a best-selling novelist, a revolutionary writer, board members of co-ops in small villages, a professor of Quranic sciences, and a publisher of religious and revolutionary books are just a few examples from the thousands of Iranians. These individuals have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, some up to a million dollars, to secure passports for themselves and their families.
This is a passport for a remote, small island they don’t even live in. Nonetheless, they hold onto it tightly, keeping it buried somewhere in the bottoms of their safes for a day that may or may not even come.
Buying another country’s passport is neither illegal nor a valid reason for calling someone a criminal. The deteriorating political and social situation in Iran is no secret to anyone.
Brain drain is a familiar story that Iranian authorities admit and lament, especially when explaining the emigration of experts and educated people. Still, it is hard to classify these few thousand Iranians who bought Dominica passports in the brain drain classification. Many people on this list are either cronies or family members of the Islamic Republic’s close power circle.
The circle of power is not only the first-degree relatives of the system. The gamut of this circle is much broader than most of us can imagine. Next to doctors, famous and rich people, we see the names of people who are wanted in Iran due to financial crimes or were involved in fraud or embezzlement cases—some which have defrauded and stolen from the people of Iran on a large scale.
The three convicts from the notorious petrochemical case, along with their families, one of the convicted in the case of the missing rig case and his family, several famous fraudsters and bank debtors, oil smugglers, those who helped in evading sanctions, and those who stole money from both the people of Iran and its government are on the list.
Beyond this, relatives of IRGC commanders, middle managers of the Islamic Republic, and its politicians are on the list. Dozens of defendants and relatives of fraudsters, defendants such as those in the famous Iran Khodro Saina Chemical cases, missing oil money, car pre-sale Ponzi schemes, and oil smuggling incidents—are among the purchasers of Dominica passports.
Over nearly two decades, during the time at which sanctions were at their peak, sanctions evaders, money launderers, money exchange owners, and the board members of numerous paper companies registered in the free zones purchased these second passports together with their families.
Among the offenders, charlatans, fraudsters, and people on this list, we also find unique and strange cases; for example, someone who is a member of 18 scientific societies in Iran, from the Physics Society to the Agriculture Society, a famous poker player, and also a young graduate of Sharif University who in his motivational speeches, encourages the youth of Iran to stay in Iran to build it for future generations.
The relatives of one of the former heads of Evin prison and the family of someone who was sentenced to death for espionage but was released through the mediation of Natigh Nouri and Ayatollah Yazdi can too, be found in this list.
Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean
Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean, a collaborative cross-border investigation into Dominica’s citizenship-by-investment program, is a joint effort by OCCRP, the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit the Government Accountability Project, and more than a dozen media partners. It began after the Government Accountability Project obtained the names of roughly 7,700 people who have bought Dominica passports between 2007 and 2022. These names were compiled from official documents published by the government of Dominica and supplemented via leaked documents and corporate filings.
PARTNERS: The Government Accountability Project, Paper Trail Media, Der Standard, Le Monde, Forbes, the Guardian, Daraj, Follow the Money, Zamaneh Media, InfoLibre, Lighthouse Reports, the Reporter, Heidi.news, Proekt, Context.ro