Adjournment Debate. - Non-national Passport Holders.

The Minister replying to this matter has not yet arrived but Deputy O'Malley may wish to commence in the hope that he or she comes. The Deputy was here on time but it is important that Members who submit questions and Ministers who answer them keep an eye on the monitor. The Chair is put in a difficult position because there is a limit to the amount of time I can wait before adjourning the House.

I am glad of the opportunity to refer to last night's "Prime Time" programme on RTE, which concerned some of those who received Irish citizenship and passports under the ill-fated "passports for sale" scheme. What some of these people have done with their citizenship is summed up in the title of the programme —"Passports for Plunder". While the principle of this scheme may have been fine in theory, in practice its operation has been a disgrace to the good name of the country and its public administration.

The names of some of the beneficiaries cast a cloud over our reputation. Sheikh Mafouz, who received not just one but 11 passports for his commitment to Ireland and things Gaelic, has been indicted in respect of the BCCI banking fraud and is a wanted man around the world. The fraud amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars and may have been the greatest banking fraud in world financial history. Mr. Charles Wacker was involved in a huge tax fraud in Chicago. A Chinese gentleman, Mr. Ding Man, got no less than 22 passports for his investment — how many of those 22 people were even once in Ireland?

Last night we heard in some detail about Mr. Viktor Kozeny, a disreputable Czech with a KGB background who was fined the maximum amount for illegal share dealing in the Czech Republic and was involved in buying state secrets from a former spy. He is reputed to have made a profit of about $1 billion by complex deals and privatisation vouchers in the Czech Republic at the expense of ordinary, vulnerable people. With his Irish passport, he is now engaged in similar activities in Azerbaijan.

Michael Ding Man, who was mentioned in the programme, was Kozeny's partner in these dealings, and there is strong circumstantial evidence that he was the real architect of it and a major beneficiary also. To have naturalised Kozeny might be considered a misfortune, but to have granted a passport to Ding Man also must be considered downright carelessness, especially when Ding Man was given his passport in 1996, approximately one year after Kozeny received his. It is particularly galling because Ding Man is now involved with Vladimir Potanin, one of the more dangerous oligarchs in Russia, in connection with the notorious Uneximbank and, since he has already given up his United States citizenship for a tax efficient Bahamian passport, an Irish passport is vital to him if he wants to be free to jet around the world doing dodgy deals.

Perhaps as many as half of the 156 naturalisations and passports given out under this scheme have been given to unsuitable and improper people who have not fulfilled the necessary conditions. My question to the Minister now is will he withdraw those passports and cancel the naturalisations in the case of all these various people who are involved in financial and other improprieties, or is Ireland to continue to offer these people its protection and the protection of its good name indefinitely?

Why should ordinary Irish citizens and their reputation suffer because certain Ministers decided to give these gangsters Irish citizenship in return for questionable investments that may or may not have taken place?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not here, but I assure Deputy O'Malley that I will ensure that the views he expressed are conveyed to him and he will reply directly to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy. This is probably the only thing he can do in the circumstances, but it is a pity that the Minister is not here. I hope that when he is replying he does not simply read from a sheet prepared in the Department but that he deals specifically with the points I raised and questions I asked.

On a point of order, it was my understanding that the Minister wanted to speak first in order to facilitate——

The Minister is here.

The matter has been dealt with, but if the House is agreeable we will hear the Minister, or would the Deputy prefer to get a reply directly from the Minister?

I would not wish to attempt to stifle the Minister, but he has not heard what I have said. I am fearful that, like many other Ministers, he will read a script that was prepared in the Department that does not refer to what I have said or the questions I have asked. If he cannot do so now, perhaps he might reply to some of those questions later.

If it is possible for Deputy O'Malley to repeat in essence what he said, I will reply to him. I have a fair idea of what he intended to say. I saw a video of last night's programme, and I know what Deputy O'Malley said in that. The business of the House finished early. Unfortunately I was in the Department and have only just arrived. I apologise sincerely to the Deputy and to the House for that. If it is possible for him to even summarise what he said I will be pleased to reply to him.

I will allow it on this occasion, but I do not want to create a precedent. We cannot have a situation where when the business concludes there is only one Minister and one Member in the Chamber when four matters were raised on the Adjournment. I would not like it to be thought that we can start the business over again every evening if a similar situation arises. On this occasion Deputy O'Malley may speak.

I referred to the programme last night and to what is called "the passports for sale scheme". It is perfectly all right in theory, but the way it has been operated in practice has been a disgrace to the good name of this country and to its whole public administration. The very names of some of the beneficiaries cast a cloud over the country and its reputation. Sheikh Mafouz, who got not just one but 11 passports for his commitment to Ireland and to all things Gaelic, has been indicted in respect of the BCCI banking fraud and is a wanted man around the world, the fraud amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars and being perhaps the greatest banking fraud in the world's financial history. Charles Wacker has been involved in a huge tax fraud in Chicago. A Chinese gentleman got no less than 22 passports for his investment, and how many of these 22 people were even once in Ireland?

Last night we heard in some detail about Viktor Kozeny, a disreputable Czech who has a KGB background, who was fined the maximum amount for illegal share dealing in the Czech Republic and was involved in the buying of state secrets from a former spy. He is reputed to have made a profit of about $1 billion from complex deals and privatisation vouchers in the Czech Republic at the expense of ordinary vulnerable people. He is now engaged, with the assistance and benefit of his Irish passport, in similar activities in Azerbaijan.

Michael Ding Man, who was mentioned in the programme, was Kozeny's partner in these dealings, and there is strong circumstantial evidence that he was the real architect of it and a major beneficiary also. To have naturalised Kozeny might be considered a misfortune, but to have granted a passport to Ding Man also must be considered downright carelessness. It is particularly galling because Ding Man is now involved with Vladimir Potanin, one of the dangerous oligarchs in Russia in connection with the notorious Uneximbank, and since he has already given up his United States citizenship for a tax efficient Bahamian passport, an Irish passport is vital to him if he wants to continue to jet around the world doing dodgy deals.

Perhaps as many as half of the 156 naturalisations and passports given out under this scheme have been given to unsuitable and improper people who have not fulfilled the necessary conditions. My question to the Minister now is will he withdraw these passports and cancel the naturalisations in the case of all these various people who are involved and have been involved in financial and other improprieties, or is Ireland to continue to offer these people its protection and the protection if its good name. Why should ordinary Irish citizens and their reputation suffer because certain Ministers decided to give these gangsters Irish citizenship in return for questionable investments that may or may not have taken place. I thank the Minister.

I thank Deputy O'Malley for repeating what he had to say about this important matter, and the Chair and House for their indulgence. Business was not due to finish until 5.00 p.m. but ended at 4.35 p.m. No discourtesy was intended on my part. It did not come to my notice until I saw Deputy O'Malley on the monitor in the Department and I left immediately.

In responding to the matter raised by Deputy O'Malley on the Adjournment, I point out that the matters dealt with in last night's programme long pre-date my term of office and that of the Government. Deputy Owen, my predecessor, participated in the programme, and she explained her actions.

Deputy O'Malley will be aware that the investment-based naturalisation scheme emanated from a proposal by the Minister for Industry and Commerce at the time, Deputy John Bruton. The investment-based naturalisation scheme evolved in the 1980s to assist the IDA in attracting inward investment, especially in manufacturing industry. In the period 1988-94, 66 investors plus 39 spouses and children were naturalised. During this period the range of investment made under this scheme widened from industrial development to include, for example, some property and forestry development and the shipping sector. Terms of reference were introduced in 1994 by the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, and have been followed since. The main provisions of these terms of reference are the investment of £1 million per applicant, the purchase of a substantial residence and its retention in ownership for at least five years, provision of an undertaking to reside in the State for a minimum of 60 days in the two years following naturalisation, and provision of a police certificate of character by the authorities of the country of origin.

Other requirements in the terms of reference related to procedures for verifying the investment and conditions associated with the related naturalisation.

It has been the practice of Ministers to accept applications for naturalisation of spouses and minor children of investors once an interval has elapsed following the investor's naturalisation.

In the period 1994 to 1997, 29 investors — plus nine spouses and children — were naturalised based on these guidelines. All of these cases were in progress prior to my taking up office.

The Government abolished the scheme on 20 April last at my instigation and cleared the way for finalising outstanding cases on hand which are being dealt with in accordance with existing procedures. As Deputy O'Malley is aware no new applications are being accepted following upon that decision of the Government on 20 April. When the Government abolished the investment-based scheme, it decided that I should consider how the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act could facilitate investment and I established a review group to consider this question.

I do not propose to comment on last night's programme, which I viewed a short time ago. I have asked my Department to examine its contents very carefully and I am asking the review group to which I referred to take account of the programme in its deliberations. Naturally, I will also be asking the review group and the Department to take very careful note of what Deputy O'Malley has had to say in the House today regarding this matter, which I view very seriously.

On the question of revocation of a certificate of naturalisation, section 19 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, provides that a certificate of naturalisation can be revoked in certain defined circumstances. These include circumstances where the issue of the certificate was procured by fraud or misrepresentation, whether innocent or fraudulent, concealment of material facts or circumstances, or where the person to whom it was granted has, by any overt act, shown himself to have failed in his duty of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.

I have the option of considering any case in the light of this section and in that respect I will be considering the information disclosed in last night's programme — and what Deputy O'Malley had to say here today — to see what action if any is open to me. I assure the House that I will not hesitate to take whatever action is required and available to me.

Will the Minister withdraw their passports?

I again thank the House for its indulgence, and Deputy O'Malley in particular.