Over a dozen EU member countries have government schemes in place that allow wealthy foreigners to obtain residency permits in return for large investments. Rights groups say the programs pose risks of money laundering.
Programs run by some European Union countries to sell passports and residency rights to wealthy foreign investors pose the risk of money laundering as some of the schemes are not properly managed, campaign groups said Wednesday.
A joint report by Global Witness and Transparency International notes that government schemes to trade citizenship for large investments are currently in place in 13 EU nations: Austria, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Britain, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and France. Hungary has terminated its program.
"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 Global Witness campaigner Naomi Hirst.
She warned that checks on individuals that bought EU citizenship or residency permits were not satisfactory and exposed countries to corruption and money laundering risks.
Fixed rules needed
The report urged the EU to set binding standards for managing the schemes in question and to extend anti-money laundering rules for banks or gaming firms to "all those involved in the visa-for-sale industry."
Rights groups campaigners said acquiring passports under such schemes cost an average of €900,000 ($1.03 million), with Cyprus' passport costing up to €2 million.
The report stated that EU nations generated around €25 billion in foreign direct investment in a decade from selling at least 6,000 passports and nearly 100,000 residency permits.
"Poorly managed schemes allow corrupt individuals to work and travel unhindered throughout the EU and undermine our collective security," Transparency International's Laure Brillaud said in a statement.
hg/tr (Reuters, LUSA)