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Marriott is helping “Bitcoin Jesus” sell cheap citizenship in the Caribbean

Former U.S. citizen Adam Bilzerian stands on a hilltop overlooking part of Basseterre January 31, 2012. Bilzerian, son of former corporate raider Paul Bilzerian, renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2008 after becoming disenchanted with its politics and acquiring a St. Kitts and Nevis passport through a "citizenship by investment" program. This two-island nation is one of three countries offering so-called citizenship by investment, burgeoning programs that bestow on foreigners the benefits of being a citizen - namely, a passport for a price. Picture taken January 31.
Reuters/Stanford Conway
Like this professional poker player, Adam Bilzerian. you, too, can obtain St Kitts citizenship for the right price.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Tired of paying wealthy-nation taxes? Worried that, in the event of calamity, your citizenship is going to drag you down? Roger Ver, the investor known as “Bitcoin Jesus,” has the product for you: Just use bitcoin to purchase a share in a Marriott development on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and Nevis, and the government will throw in citizenship and a passport that gets you to 140 countries without a visa.

With the price-tag of a $400,000 real-estate investment (or just a $250,000 to a kind of sovereign wealth fund), St. Kitts has for decades been one of the cheapest places you can go to buy citizenship. It makes sense that it is frequently a haven for criminals, tax evaders (like the richest woman in Hong Kong, a human tax dodge), sanctions dodgers (pdf), and oligarchs.

The innovation that Ver brings to the table is crypto-currency—he earned his nickname backing a variety of bitcoin start-ups, and now he has set up a company, International Investments & Consulting, Ltd, that will accept payments in bitcoin to handle the St. Kitts investments and apply for citizenship, Bloomberg reports.

Bitcoin’s relative anonymity and its ease of transfer are expected to simplify the task, though after application fees and unspecified fees levied by Ver’s firm, it’s not clear if the bitcoin transaction would be any cheaper than an old-fashioned wire transfer—or a flight to the islands with a suitcase full of cash.

Ver notes that no visit is necessary to obtain this passport. After purchasing a share of a real estate development on the island, new citizens have to hold it for five years, but they can then sell it again to the next person seeking citizenship. His company is also happy to be your “one-stop shop” to set up offshore companies and new bank accounts.

Ver’s business is fairly typical of the island: Many high-end realtors there offer assistance in obtaining citizenship, as an added bonus to the product they are already hawking. Another interesting wrinkle to this scheme is the fact that it appears, at first, that Ver is partnering with Marriott International, the global hotel chain that counts fellow offshore-banking fan and former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a member of its board of directors. Ver’s firm says it has the “exclusive right to sell” properties being developed by Marriot on St. Kitts and along a golf course it owns there.

Read it a little closer, however, and you learn that Marriott International is only licensing its brand to a real estate development firm on the island. And indeed, a little distance from Ver, who decamped from the US after an explosives conviction he says was overwrought, is probably good for the company.

Both Ver and the son of his partner, Paul Bilzerian (a former US corporate raider who went to St. Kitts after serving time in US prison for securities fraud) offer testimonials on the firm’s website, but neither one mentions his ownership connections to the firm. Ver, of course, is not just the president—he’s also a client. Like Bilzerian, he has obtained St. Kitts citizenship.

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