By SAMUEL PETREQUIN – Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Commission on Monday recommended EU states end the Golden Passport schemes, which allow wealthy people to buy into the bloc’s citizenship, and urged them to look into whether Russian oligarchs are involved affiliated with the Kremlin or supporting the war in Ukraine should have previously granted citizenship rights revoked.
The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta over their golden passport schemes in 2020, and the Russian war in Ukraine has raised the issue.
The commission warned that some Russian or Belarusian citizens who are among the 877 people affected by asset freezes and travel bans since 2014, or who support the Russian invasion of their neighbor, may have obtained EU citizenship or have access to the EU Schengen area had schemes.
The EU executive said countries should now consider withdrawing golden passports issued to such individuals. It also recommended immediately withdrawing residence permits issued under an investor program from Russian or Belarusian citizens who support the war or are subject to sanctions.
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Malta and Bulgaria currently have citizenship-by-investment schemes operational, while Cyprus, which abolished its own scheme in November 2020, will only process applications submitted before that date. Bulgarian lawmakers recently backed a decision to end its golden passport scheme.
Cyprus canceled the show after an undercover TV report allegedly showed the speaker of parliament and a powerful lawmaker claiming they could circumvent the rules to issue a passport to a fictional Chinese investor allegedly convicted of fraud at home.
A 2021 report found that more than half of the 6,779 passports issued over the 13-year life of the scheme, which raised over €8 billion, were unlawfully issued to relatives of wealthy investors. According to the report, the government misconstrued the law on issuing passports to relatives and also found that nearly 770 foreign nationals were wrongly granted citizenship, mainly due to insufficient verification.
According to the EU Parliament, twelve EU countries operate residency-through-investment schemes. The minimum investment sums range from 60,000 euros to 1,250,000 euros.
“European values cannot be bought. We believe that selling citizenship through ‘golden passports’ is illegal under EU law and poses serious risks to our security,” said Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice and Consumers. “It opens the floodgates to corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.”
The commission’s recommendation came after European lawmakers earlier this month called for an end to the sale of citizenship through investment schemes and better regulation of residence through investment schemes.
In addition to its call to “immediately repeal all existing investor citizenship regimes,” the Commission also called on EU countries to carry out strict controls before issuing investor residence permits.
Menelaus Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus contributed to this report.
Follow all AP news on the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
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