Cyprus’ much-criticized Golden Visa program that sells residency permits that come with European Union passports for rich foreigners who don’t have to declare where they got their money is proving lucrative.
The Berlin-based Transparency International said the government rakes in 914 million euros ($996.58 million) annually by selling the visas despite fears from anti-corruption groups that much of it could be money laundering and the program used by criminals abroad.
With Cyprus one of the smallest countries in the EU, its visa scheme is the second-richest, with President Nicos Anastasiades ignoring complaints about the possible source of the money and saying other countries are doing it too.
The program has brought in more than 4.8 billion euros ($5.23 billion) with only Spain making more, some 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion) a year and visas being sold across the bloc, including in Greece where Chinese investors have been buying up neighborhoods to become eligible.
German journalist Michael Martens of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said the report underestimated how much money Cyprus was making, putting it at more than 6.5 billion euros ($7.09 billion) over the past five years, reported Turkey’s pro-government The Daily Sabah.
The visa program aims for the super-rich and shuts out people in the Diaspora unless they can afford the buying-in amounts that vary by country.
Earlier this year, the EU warned Cyprus was opening the door for Russian oligarchs and for organized crime to infiltrate the country and bloc, said Al Jazeera, reporting that the marina in Limassol is rapidly filling with luxury yachts.
Cyprus doesn’t require purchasers to even step foot in the country, a worrying aspect as other countries regulations insist the investors show a presence.
Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta offer passports to investors without any real connections to the countries by paying between 800,000 and 2 million euros ($909,000 to $2.3 million) with the visas likely helping organized crime groups infiltrate the EU and launder money.
Cyprus is fighting a reputation for being a tax haven for tax cheats and criminals from other countries wanting to hide their money and has come under withering criticism for the Golden Visas being offered without, critics said, vetting of who’s getting them.
Cyprus, Bulgaria and Malta do not require residency or any other connection to the country to grant citizenship to so-called investors – in violation of EU law, according to the European Council, which has done nothing about it.