Court dismisses claim against Citizenship Commission

The Supreme Court has dismissed a claim by the VRP MENA Limited, against the Citizenship Commission (CC) and the Republic of Vanuatu.

The VRP MENA Ltd entered into a written agreement with the CC- Honorary citizenship-Development Support Program (DSP) Designated Agent (DA) Agreement on March 10 this year to promote and market the DSP globally.

Subsequently, VRP-MENA secured applicants in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Iran.

On May 17, the CC sent restriction letters to the VRP MENA and nine other DAs, restricting promotion and marketing of the program in five countries with immediate effect, “for reasons of national security”.

The restrictions were placed on North Korea, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

VRP MENA’s contention was they had gone past the promoting and marketing phase and already secured clients who have paid fees and exhausted the required processes.

They say the sum of US$ 2, 078, 0719.46 has already been credited to the Vanuatu Government (VG) Account ahs cleared out the sum of US$3, 047, 500 transferred.

In addition, they say the VRP-MENA Ltd has spent between US$700000 and 1200000 per applicant to conduct due diligence process checks abroad, which took between one to three months to complete.

They added that 56 applicants are undergoing due diligence process, a few have been issued passports, all applicants are residing and working in other countries with valid US visas or Schengen visas and many of them are christians.

It is their view that a 3-months notice should have been issued by the CC, to stop the promotion and marketing.

VRP-MENA therefore issued judicial review proceedings, seeking relief from the court for the following orders:

a) The decision of the Commission dated May 17 is ultra vires its powers.

b) The Commission took irrelevant matters into consideration in making the restriction and the decision was improperly made.

They also sought a declaration that the restriction of May 17 is in direct contravention of the March 10th agreement and relied on evidence in the sworn statements of Mr. John Enock Ware, the list of payments, receipts of payments and list of applicants.

Justice Olivier Saksak said the facts are not in dispute. As this was a Rule 17.8 hearing the judge assessed the case in accordance with the four tests set out in Rule 17.8 (3).

Test 1 was whether the claimant had an arguable case. Justice Saksak was satisfied that out of the 56 applicants, only one had not been approved due to restriction as admitted by Mr. Ware.

Applications from Turkey and Lebanon were listed but these two countries are not included in the restriction schedule.

On the issue of 3-months notice, the Agreement in March places an obligation on both parties to terminate by giving a 3-months notice.

VRP MENA alleged that the CC breached the agreement. The CC argued and submitted section 1 (5) of the agreement, which gives the Commission discretionary power to impose the restriction for national security reasons.

The court agreed that where it is deemed the national security of Vanuatu as a sovereign state is at stake, the Commission acted reasonably and appropriately.

It disagreed that the claimant was directly affected by the Commission’s decision in May.

On the question of whether there is no other remedy that would resolve the matter fully and directly, the judge says the agreement provided an avenue but the claimant chose not to take that course.

The judgment was handed down on August 30, 2017.

Two days earlier, an order made by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, amending a section in the Honorary Citizenship- DSP Regulation was published in the official gazette.

The amendment provides for the minimum selling prices to be charged by designated agents.

Meanwhile, President Tallis Obed, after consultation with the Prime minister has appointed the following persons as members of the CC: Pierre Sewen (PM’s representative), Henry Manlaewia (Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs representative), Leias Cullwick (representative of the National Council of Women) and Pastor Shem Temar (representative of the Vanuatu Christian Council).

The appointments were made on August 25, and published in the official gazette yesterday.

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