Wealthy Chinese Buying Up Greek Golden Visas, EU Passports

FILE - Boats are seen on Ammoudi Bay near seaside tavernas on the island of Santorini, Greece. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen, File)

With worries that there’s little vetting for possible criminals or money launderers snapping up Golden Visas that bring residency permits and European Union passports, Greece in 2018 has 4,154 to wealthy foreigners, the bulk of them from China.

Investors who buy land or property or Greek securities of at least 250,000 euros ($280,814) can get the visas while those of Greek heritage in the Diaspora may have to wait up to two years or longer even if they family in Greece but not enough to qualify for residency permits.

Residency permits for foreigners in Greece have grown 46 percent since 2017, the Migration Policy Ministry said, some 3,892 through the end of 2018 and another 262 in the first quarter of this year.

With companies from their country investing heavily in Greece, investors from China accounted for 58 percent of the five-year residency permits, said Kathimerini, some 2,416 Golden Visas since January, 2018, and their numbers growing.

There has also been an increase in Turkish investors, jumping from 241 a year earlier to 402, just behind Russians, who bought 428 permits.

Most of the properties being bought are in Attica, which drew 78 percent of buyers, leading to the issuing of 3,262 residence permits. Halkidiki was a distant second, with 205 property sales there and many investors then turning their newly-acquired properties into Airbnb rentals and not even having to live in Greece but having residency permits and passports.

Chinese realtors, construction firms and tourism agencies have set up shop in Greece and joined forces with local legal firms and real estate companies to help the investors, often also making it easier for them to bypass capital controls in China, the paper said earlier.

Chinese investments are a big part of this increase, market sources say, attributed in part to the low cost of the Golden Visa scheme with many of the properties then used for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, ironically driving up the rents in nearby buildings and pricing many Greeks out.

China’s government is reportedly trying to hunt down tax cheats, including wealthy people buying up property on Cyprus to get so-called Golden Visas that give them residency permits  while even members of the Diaspora abroad with Cypriot heritage have to wait.

China is applying new tax rules in a bid to keep citizens from spiriting money abroad and hiding their assets in foreign properties, such as on Cyprus, which has been accused of selling the visas without vetting applicants for possible tax evasion, money laundering or other possible criminal activities.

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