Yesterday’s parliamentary question from Godfrey Farrugia asking the prime minister whether the government was considering accepting crypto-currencies to sell passports was a smart question indeed.

He got an unambiguous response from the prime minister. “No” the government is not planning to sell passports for bitcoins.

Why is the question significant?

Vanuatu is a micro-state that sells its passports to people willing to pay for one. The United States had been putting pressure on it and other Caribbean dwarf countries because their passports are being used by who knows who to by-pass strict immigration controls of people coming from countries more likely to send terrorists that little Vanuatu or St Lucia.

The United States can do more than grab the phone and complain. It has the means to control the flow of international payments, slow them down or even reverse them. It has the means to frustrate cooperation with corresponding banks or to channel dollar payments through vetting processes that it can, if it wants to, force to fail.
Vanuatu is the first of these micro-states to have decided to accept crypto-currency payments in exchange of passports.

The moment it announced it intends to accept bitcoins, its passport office went into tilt with demands from applicants frustrated with delays in managing to pay countries to accept their money in exchange for a passport. Bitcoins cannot be stopped by the conventional financial system. They cannot even be slowed down.
Vanuatu passports are not sold by Henley&Partners. But it is not likely that its nearest regional competitors that include countries whose passports are sold by Henley&Partners will stand by while their business is taken away from them by Vanuatu.

There’s another interesting development that is happening elsewhere.

Pilatus Bank, another well-known brand here, is hitting the trade papers promoting its enthusiastic attitude towards crypto-payments and how such a transformation would give their clientele the levels of speed and service they might wish for. Here’s Ali Sadr writing about how Pilatus is cryptifying itself.

What the Chairman of Pilatus does not elaborate too much about is the potential for crypto-payments to avoid identification and to dodge money-laundering filters.

The third isolated development is the Maltese government’s adolescent enthusiasm for block-chain and crypto-moneys.

Godfrey Farrugia may have wanted to check in Parliament whether these three seemingly innocuous developments happening in three different regions of the world somehow converge in Malta. He got his answer.

“No” said the prime minister rather uncharacteristically laconically.

But he also had said we would never sell more than 1,800 passports. Then he said we might. Then he said we will.

This one needs watching.