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EU wants to end golden passport programs to target Russian oligarchs


BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Commission on Monday recommended EU countries end golden passport schemes that give wealthy individuals access to bloc citizenship, and urged them to assess whether Russian oligarchs linked in the Kremlin or who support the war in Ukraine should be stripped of previously granted citizenship rights.

The European Commission launched infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta in 2020 over their golden passport schemes, and Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought the issue into sharper focus.

The Commission has warned that some Russian or Belarusian citizens who are among the 877 people targeted by asset freezes and travel bans imposed since 2014, or who support Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, may have acquired Russian citizenship. EU or have had access to the Schengen area via these schemes.

The EU’s executive arm said countries should now consider whether they should withdraw the golden passports issued to such people. In addition, he recommended immediately withdrawing residence permits granted under an investment program to Russian or Belarusian citizens supporting the war or subject to sanctions.

Malta and Bulgaria currently have citizenship-by-investment plans in place, while Cyprus, which dropped its own scheme in November 2020, only processes applications submitted before that date. Bulgarian lawmakers recently backed the decision to end its golden passport program.

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Cyprus canceled the program 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 fictitious Chinese investor who was allegedly found guilty of fraud in his country.

A 2021 report found that more than half of a total of 6,779 passports had been illegally issued to relatives of wealthy investors during the 13-year program which generated more than €8 billion. The report said the government misinterpreted the law on issuing passports to relatives and also found that nearly 770 foreigners were wrongly granted citizenship, mainly due to inadequate screening.

Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris confirmed to The Associated Press that four Russians have been sanctioned and given Cypriot passports under the island nation’s investment scheme.

According to the European Parliament, twelve EU countries operate residency-by-investment schemes. Minimum investment levels range from €60,000 to €1,250,000.

“European values ​​are not for sale. We consider 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 Consumer Affairs. . “It opens the door to corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.”

The committee’s recommendation came after European lawmakers called earlier this month for an end to the sale of citizenship through investment schemes and better regulation of residency through residency schemes. investment.

Along with its call “to immediately repeal any existing investor citizenship scheme”, the commission also urged EU countries to carry out strict checks before issuing any residence permits to investors.

Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.


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