The European Commission has called on EU countries to be more vigilant in granting “golden visas”, controversial national schemes which allow wealthy investors to acquire residence permits or even European citizenship.
The practice, which notably benefits wealthy Chinese, Russian or American citizens, “presents a number of risks, in terms of security, money laundering or tax evasion” according to a report on the issue.
The Commission will therefore ask EU countries to be more robust in their screening of candidates, and ‘more transparent’ about how they grant these privileges, which NGOs have have pointed out have been the source of several scandals.
Countries like Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria are particularly in the spotlight. Their system allows, citizenship to be acquired in exchange for investments, allowing the recipient to travel freely around the EU. Other countries allow investors to acquire residence permits.
The checks carried out to ascertain whether candidates pose a security problem or are engaged in financial crimes are not sufficient, according to the document to be published by the European executive.
“Criminals can easily find refuge in Europe thanks to the opacity and lack of supervision of programs called Golden Visas”, Transparency International and Global Witness warned in a report published a few months ago.
This situation favours “discretionary decision making and corruption”, they said in their report, estimating that at least six thousand passports and nearly one hundred thousand residence permits were “sold” in the EU during the last decade.
The “golden visa” program in Malta was one of the investigative topics on which journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia was working when she was murdered in October 2017.
In Portugal, at the beginning of January, courts acquitted most of the defendants after a lengthy trial for bribery in a “golden visas” case. Portugal allows candidates willing to pay at least 500,000 euros for a real estate purchase, to invest at least one million euros or create ten jobs, to obtain a residence permit.