With its cash-for-passport practices, Europe has opened its door to the criminal and corrupt, with some member states running a lucrative industry of trading citizenship for money, said a new report by Transparency International and Global Witness.
“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,” said Naomi Hirst, senior campaigner at Global Witness, ahead of the publication of the report.
“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 matter has come into focus only recently, after Finnish authorities raided a real-estate firm controlled by a Russian businessperson who had purchased Maltese citizenship following suspicions of massive money laundering.
In another example, Hungary issued permits to the family of the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence chief, who is covered by European sanctions.
The two anti-corruption organizations looked into practices of four member states that sell passports (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta) and 12 that grant residency rights to foreign investors.
Schemes to trade citizenship or residence rights for investment are currently applied in 13 EU countries: Austria, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Britain, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and France. Hungary, meanwhile, has terminated its programme.
According to the report “European Getaway – Inside the murky world of golden visas”, in the course of the past 10 years, the golden visa scheme of several member states has given the EU more than 6,000 new citizens and around 100,000 new residents, most of them with questionable sources of funds and wealth.
Spain, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal and the UK granted the highest numbers of ‘golden visas’ to investors and their families, followed by Greece, Cyprus and Malta.
Altogether the EU member states have attracted around €25 billion in foreign direct investment through the golden visa programmes, the report found. Spain (€976 million), Cyprus (€914 million), Portugal (€670 million) and the UK (€498 million) came out as the top earners when looking at the annual average respectively.
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