EU states warned over billions banked through golden visa schemes
Campaign groups say such deals can open doors of Europe to criminals
EU states have banked tens of billions of euros in investment from “golden visa” schemes that open the door to criminals even as the bloc takes a hard public line on corruption, two leading anti-graft campaign groups have warned
EU states have banked tens of billions of euros in investment from “golden visa” schemes that open the door to criminals even as the bloc takes a hard public line on corruption, two leading anti-graft campaign groups have warned.
At least 6,000 passports and almost 100,000 residence permits have been granted in the past decade under programmes that are sometimes laxly supervised, according to research published on Wednesday jointly by Global Witness and Transparency International.
The paper stokes concerns that the widespread money-for-status schemes offer kleptocrat cronies and criminal gangs a foothold in Europe. Brussels has said it plans tougher scrutiny of “citizenship for sale” schemes in eight EU member states, including Malta and Cyprus.
Naomi Hirst, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, said: “If you have a lot of money that you acquired through dubious means, securing a new place to call home far away from the place you stole from isn’t just appealing, it’s sensible.
“Golden visa schemes offer a safe haven from authorities who might be looking to seize your stolen assets, and the freedom to travel without raising suspicion.”
The EU’s 28 member states have won about 25bn Euros of foreign direct investment over the past 10 years from schemes that offer residence rights or full citizenship in exchange, the report says. Cyprus has generated 4.8bn Euros since 2013 and Malta about 718m Euros since 2014, while Portugal and the UK appear to earn between 500m Euros and almost 1bn Euros per year. Spain, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal and the UK have all granted residence rights in more than 10,000 cases.
Cyprus and Portugal “do not seem to question applicants’ source of wealth”, while Malta accepts even convicted criminals and targets of investigations in “special circumstances”, the report alleges. Success rates of more than 90 per cent for golden visa candidates in Latvia, Hungary and the UK raise further doubts over how stiff the background checks are in those countries, the campaign groups argue.
Countries that offer golden visa schemes say they are a source of needed investment and are subject to proper due diligence checks.
Cases such as the 200bn Euros money laundering scandal at Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, have exposed how EU members have been used as havens for suspect money from Russia and other states where corruption flourishes.
The problem has even deeper roots in the decades-old role played by European countries as conduits for looted money laundered through banks, property and other investments by dictatorships from African nations and elsewhere.
The European Commission will publish a report on citizenship schemes next month, following concerns that EU governments need to carry out more stringent vetting for passport applicants.
Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for Justice, told the FT in August that Brussels wanted to pressure governments to reject questionable candidates, after recent money laundering scandals linked to Russia.
In cases of any doubt, a person “should not have the privilege of citizenship”, Ms Jourova said. “We have no power to ban such a practice but we have an obligation to put high requirements on the member states to be careful. They are granting citizenship for the whole of Europe.”
The commission’s report will be the first time Brussels has scrutinised golden visa schemes.
Countries that offer golden visa schemes say they are a source of needed investment and are subject to proper due diligence checks © Reuters