Nestled in a valley formed by an extinct volcano on the Caribbean island of Dominica, the InterContinental Cabrits resort has 101 luxurious rooms overlooking an emerald bay. Its website invites guests to “explore and unwind in paradise while discovering the pristine island”.
But waterfront views and a swim-up rum bar are not the hotel’s only attraction: for the wealthy investors who helped fund the project, it was also a route to another nationality.
The Cabrits is just one of many resorts being built in the Caribbean with some funding raised via citizenship by investment (CBI) schemes, which are also operated by the governments of St Kitts & Nevis and Grenada, among others.
The buyers of Dominica’s golden passports can choose one of two routes: make a $100,000 (£82,000) non-refundable contribution to the government, or invest $200,000 plus extra fees in a local real estate project, and hope for a return.
The government makes the names of new citizens publicly available in its official gazette but developers who raise money through citizenship do not have to publish investor names. However, an investigation by the Guardian, working with partners in the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, has revealed the identities of thousands of passport buyers, including hundreds who bought a share in the Cabrits resort.
Based on publicly available information and a leak of files from the developer of the Cabrits resort, some of the findings of Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean may raise questions about the transparency and governance of the scheme, and some are potentially embarrassing for Dominica.
One investor was Asadullah Khalid, a former defence minister of Afghanistan. Khalid held several important roles in the government of Hamid Karzai, including as governor of Kandahar province and head of the National Directorate of Security, the country’s intelligence service, before the country was taken over by the Taliban.
Khalid obtained a Dominica passport in June 2017, before the hotel started operating. A simple Google search would have revealed to those responsible for making checks that in the years before he submitted his application, he had been accused of war crimes.
In 2012, in a memo entered as evidence in a court case involving the British government, a UK official alleged that Khalid was one of the “principle [sic] culprits of mistreatment” related to “systematic abuse” of insurgents in Afghanistan and the disappearance of individuals. The same court heard that a senior Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan had made public allegations that Khalid “was known to personally torture people” in a “dungeon under his guest house”, and “had people killed who got in his way”.
Khalid did not respond to requests for comment. He has previously dismissed the allegations against him as “just propaganda”. In 2012, he told CNN “I know there is nothing”, referring to evidence against himself.
Tom Keatinge, who studies finance and security at the thinktank Rusi, said: “Golden passport schemes around the world have had issues which have harmed the reputation of citizenship by investment.
“Any company that exposes itself to this risk should proceed with extreme caution given the risks it is likely to be exposed to.”
Cabrits is owned by Range Developments, an independent business founded in 2012. Range was approved by the government of Dominica to raise money from passport buyers to fund the project, and runs it in partnership with big hotel brands. The partner at launch in 2019 was the German luxury hotels operator Kempinski, which received a fee and a share of the revenues in exchange for managing the hotel. It was replaced last year by London-headquartered InterContinental Hotels Group.
A member of the UK’s FTSE 100 list of blue-chip companies on the London Stock Exchange, InterContinental is working with Range to develop two other golden passports funded projects in the Caribbean – Grenada’s InterContinental and Six Senses resorts.
Range said it conducted initial reviews on investors, but that responsibility for background checks lay with the government and with the agents – typically specialist firms or law firms – which are officially approved to market the scheme and refer applicants.
Range said: “It is the government which undertakes due diligence on applicants to the programme. Interested applicants were able to invest in the project only once they were qualified by the government, meaning they passed the government’s due diligence processes and were assessed … as suitable to be granted citizenship.” The company added it had “materially contributed” to the local economy thanks to the scheme.
Dominica did not respond to requests for comment. However, after being contacted for comment, Dominica’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, gave two press conferences, in which he said the citizenship scheme was underpinned by a “robust system” with applicants undergoing “different layers of due diligence”.
Kempinski said it “takes compliance very seriously, and acts in strict accordance with any national and international rules and regulations, as well as industry best practices”. It said the citizenship programme was a government initiative and it had no involvement in running it.
In a statement, IHG said it was not involved in, nor did it operate the citizenship scheme, adding it “complies with the laws and regulations in all of the jurisdictions in which it operates”.