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Journalism as a battlefield against Russia and its wealthy businessmen

The media space and various news portals have long been fertile ground for all sorts of showdowns involving rich Russians who seek to reside in Europe using both legal and illegal means and secret roots to obtain a cherished European citizen’s passport. Furthermore, this story has a direct projection on Ukraine and Russia’s counter standing – writes Louis Auge.

Journalism in Ukraine and Russia has switched to the rails of information warfare: the parties are trying to present each other in the most negative light. More and more often there are publications with no evidence, we observe a frequent misuse of information together with the legalization of fakes.

However, the information struggle itself is already being transferred to the territory of the EU and directly affects the Europeans themselves, causing serious damage to them.

For example, the so-called “golden passport” programs have been actively criticized recently. There are revelations of citizens of different countries, including Russians, who receive EU citizenship for direct investments in the economy and simply for big money offers.

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According to Ukrainian journalists, some Russians obtained such passports illegally, involving European citizens in corrupt actions. But are such accusations against Europeans fair?

A recent article by Tatiana Nikolaenko, published in the Ukrainian edition of Apostrophe, stirred up the media space. According to Nikolaenko, the family of the head of the office of the Minister of Health of Malta Chris Feаrne, Carmen Siantar, was involved in the story of obtaining EU citizenship for investments. A Ukrainian journalist accused officials Ferne and Siantar of bribery and illegal assistance to Russian Leonid Levitin, who received Maltese citizenship in 2016. Presumably, Levitin’s acquaintance Vyacheslav Rezchikov paid Siantar’s daughter Celine for these services.

As evidence, a certain copy of a payment order dated November 22 2019 was cited, made by Rezchikov to Celine Siantar through an Austrian Liechtensteinische Landesbank (Österreich) AG. This high-profile statement caused an information storm and was automatically reprinted in a number of European media. However, few people bothered to think about whether these serious accusations were real or not. A careful study disavowed the Ukrainian author’s unsubstantiated assertion.

Mr Rezchikov’s lawyer provided a written response to the corresponding request of the EUREPORTER editorial office.  We ask to clarify the situation with accounts in the Liechtenstein Landesbank (Österreich) AG (the editorial office has the answer). The answer could be summarized as follows – the payment receipt cited as evidence is a fundamental forgery: the alleged transfer as well as the mentioned amount is fictitious, and most importantly, the payment could not have been made at all, since Rezchikov did not have any accounts in this bank during the period specified in the payment slip.

Thus, the bank statements that Nikolaenko wrote about and allegedly intended to help Mr. Levitin get a Maltese passport show non-existing accounts of Mr. Rezchikov. Liechtenstein Landesbank (Österreich) AG confirmed the fact, that Rezchikov had since long no accounts in this bank, expressively none at the time stated in the payment receipt. Accordingly, this means that Nikolaenko’s statements about the alleged bank account and the transfer of funds from Rezchikov to Siantar are not genuine, and therefore false.

Unfortunately, the authors of those publications that reprinted false information did not take care to verify it. However, any professional journalist who would like to get to the truth could contact the bank and get information. But in the pursuit of sensations, no one wanted to do anything.

Besides the payment, there were many unanswered questions: What does the Maltese Minister of Health have to do with this? What does the daughter of the head of the Minister’s office Siantar have to do with this? Nor were there any questions as to why this case arose seven years after the citizenship procedure was finalized in 2016.

No one denies the fact that there are doubtful cases of obtaining European citizenship and passports. The legal bodies of Europe, and the UK, of course, are aware of many such facts and have a close eye on such persons and their bids. But at the same time, it is true that not every Russian wealthy person tries to obtain a European passport by providing false information or using illegal means to reach the goal of residing in the EU or UK. An objective and unbiased approach to each case is needed to distinguish between an honest and trustful person and one with doubtful background.

Some time ago, Malta was considered one of the most convenient venues for issuing European passports in exchange for substantial investments from those who seek to stay on the continent, including Russians.

At the same time, many wealthy people from Russia receive passports and residence permits in Europe absolutely legally. Their names are familiar to many in Europe, some of them actively involved in the public life of their new homelands.

Of course, the situation after February 24, 2022, radically changed the attitude towards Russia. it has become reprehensible but many people have taken advantage of this on purpose to manipulate information for their own purposes – after all, today any loud accusations that contain the words «Russia» or «Russian» are taken for granted and few people spend efforts to verify them.

The only question is, why should European citizens suffer from this? After all, these are EU citizens, as we see, who become victims of manipulation and misleading information.

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