Portuguese Golden Visa suspected as money laundering tool

Published:  19 Jun at 6 PM
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Portugal’s Golden Visa programme is being condemned as a vehicle for money laundering via real estate purchases.

NGO Transparency International is taking up on last year’s warning by Portuguese government allies by declaring the country’s Golden Visa scheme is simply a form of money laundering.The programme, introduced six years ago, grants Portuguese passports and citizenship as well as EU passports and member state privileges to wealthy individuals in exchange for hefty cash investments, usually through the purchase of upscale property.

According to critics of the scheme, money laundering via the purchase of real estate isn’t a new phenomenon, but the Portuguese version implicit in the Golden Visa facilitates illegality as it fails to adequately investigate the source of the funds. For the past four years, Portuguese lawmakers have been attempting to point out the dangers of the scheme, with little result.

Socialist MEP Ana Gomes believes the programme is a ‘race to the bottom’ as a corrupt plan to support the corrupt. Gomes is attempting to get a list of all those who’ve received the visas, but the government is refusing all attempts to bring the names into the public domain. A recent press release listed irregularities following a series of investigations, one of which identified members of the Angolan ruling class as recipients after a number of real estate deals took place.

Later this year, the European Commission is to publish a report on the impact of Golden Visa schemes, with a Transparency International spokesperson saying she hopes the recent revelations about the Portuguese Golden Visa will be taken into account. To the present day, the scheme has netted some €3.5 billion in investment, with €3.1 billion relating directly to the property sector. Other countries whose Golden Visa schemes are under investigation include Cyprus, Malta, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Armenia and Montenegro, with the last two also in EU membership negotiations.

As regards applicants for Golden Visa schemes, ultra-wealthy Russian and Chinese expats form the highest percentage with the majority heading for Cyprus, whilst Portugal is popular with South Africans. Portugal’s Golden Visa real estate investment involves a spend of €500,000 plus, or just €350,000 - the average price of a house in suburban London - if the property is over 30 years old or is in an urban renovation area. Investors need only spend seven days in the country during the first year of the visa, and 14 days in subsequent years.
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