Golden Visa Scandal Hits Portugal

Golden Visa Scandal Hits Portugal

During the past couple of weeks, Portugal’s golden visa program, which grants non-European investors with a fast-tracked residency permit following a one-time investment ranging from 250 to 1 million Euros, has come under fire in the international media.

As disclosed by The Guardian, Portuguese golden visas were secretly acquired by Brazilian businesspeople accused of corruption and the relatives of an Angolan politician involved in a bribery case.

Otavio Azevedo, the ex-President of the Brazilian construction giant Andrade Gutierrez, invested 1.4 million Euros in a residence in Lisbon and applied for the visa back in 2014.

Azevedo recently received an 18-year sentence for his involvement in the massive Brazilian corruption scandal known as “Operation Car Wash.”

Azevedo’s lawyer alleges the Lisbon property was purchased following all legal proceedings in the country and that the status of the golden visa applied for remains in limbo.

Relatives of Angola’s VP and former CEO of energy company Sonangol Manuel Vicente also pursued Portugal’s golden visa.

As reported by The Guardian, Vicente is currently “[facing] allegations that he tried to bribe a Portuguese magistrate in order to suppress an investigation into corruption at Sonangol.”

Portugal's Government Stands By Golden Visa

A statement issued by the Portuguese government vouched for its golden visa program and claimed that it follows a strict procedure to safeguard its integrity.

The statement said the country’s program “strictly follows all legally established security procedures” and that the government is equipped with “adequate tools which safeguard lawfulness and security.”

“All applications are subject to review following an evaluation process, by means of criminal records and consultation of national and international databases, as well as the exchange of information in the framework of police cooperation,” it reiterated.

Portuguese governmental statistics referred to by The Guardian show that “66% of the “golden visas” issued since 2012 have been to Chinese applicants, despite it being illegal in China to transfer more than $50,000 out of the country in a single year.”

Portugal's golden visa: acquisition

Portugal’s golden visa may be acquired via 3 different means detailed in the table below:

1) Property Acquisition
Above €500,000 - Purchase of 1 or multiple properties;
- All property types qualify;
- Possibility of co-ownership;
- Freedom to use, rent or lease, and;
- Investment amount may be reduced by 20% in case investment is made in low-density population areas.
Above €350,000 for properties more than 30 years old or in urban regeneration areas - Value includes not only property but also investment in refurbishment works;
- Possibility of co-ownership;
- Freedom to use, rent for commercial or agricultural purposes, and;
- Investment amount may be reduced by 20% in case investment is made in low-density population areas.
2) Capital Investments
Transfer of funds above €1 million - Funds transferred from abroad to a bank in Portugal;
- Total freedom to invest the funds, and;
- Possibility of using the funds to invest in shares of companies.
Transfer of funds above €350,000 for research activities - Funds transferred from abroad to a bank in Portugal, and;
- To be used in research activities conducted by public or private scientific research institutions involved in the national scientific or technologic system.
Transfer of funds above €250,000 for artistic or cultural activities - Funds transferred from abroad to a bank in Portugal, and;
- Investing in artistic output or supporting the arts, for reconstruction or refurbishment of the national heritage.
Transfer of funds above €500,000 for capitalization of SMEs - Funds transferred from abroad to a bank in Portugal, and;
- Investment used for purchasing shares in investment funds or in venture capital.
3) Job Creation
Creation of a minimum of 10 jobs - No minimum investment value;
- No limitation on areas/activities;
- Compliance with Social Security obligations;
- Possibility of grants/incentives/benefits, and;
- Investment amount may be reduced by 20% (8 employees) in case investment is made in low density population areas.

General Requirements:

- Keep the investment for a minimum period of 5 years;
- Funds for investment should come from abroad;
- Entry in Portugal with a valid Schengen visa;
- Absence of references in the Portuguese Immigration and the Schengen services;
- Absence of conviction of relevant crime, and;
- Minimum stay in Portugal: 7 days during the first year and 14 days during each subsequent period of 2 years.

Source: http://goldenvisa-portugal.com/FAQ.html

Despite this aforementioned negative news, applications for Portuguese residency have soared in the past few weeks. According to Portugal’s SEF Immigration Office, applications have grown by 1300 percent following the establishment of a rule that grants foreigners residency via an employment pledge.

As explained by The Portugal News, this new regulation helped grow total applications to four thousand with most of them originating in Brazil, India, Nepal, Cape Verde and the Ukraine.

Criticism Towards Portugal's Golden Visa

More Criticism Towards Portugal’s Golden Visa

Still, not everyone is happy with what’s happening with Portugal’s golden visa.

In an op-ed for Euractive, Ana Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament and Vice Chair of the Committee of Inquiry in charge of the EU’s investigations into money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion, warns Europe as to how easy it is for such visa schemes to land jurisdictions in hot water.

Taking her own country as an example, she writes: “Spending €350,000 on property here can buy you residency and freedom of movement in the Schengen Area. In 2014 the alleged abuse of these fast-track visas brought several high-ranking public officials, including the former Home Affairs Minister, to trial on charges of corruption, influence peddling, and abuse of power. In the meantime, Lisbon went through a real estate bubble. Housing prices soared as wealthy, often absent, foreign owners poured in, while young and disadvantaged people were forced out of the best areas of the capital.”

Furthermore, she adds, “Managed like this, visa investor programmes pose a threat to the financial system and the security of all EU citizens. They are attractive to kleptocrats, criminal organisations, and sanction busters who want safe haven in the EU and a base to launder what they have stolen.”

Andrew Henderson, a citizenship-by-investment expert and mastermind behind Nomad Capitalist, believes Portugal’s golden visa has become inefficient and is being jeopardized by political factors.

In a recent blog post, Henderson points out that there have been many delays in processing paperwork that, according to the law, is only meant to take 3 months.

Henderson writes that Portuguese “border officials are protesting something about work conditions and are trying to send a message to the government: ‘We’ll let applications from wealthy investors sit if you don’t give us what we want.’”

“Sadly, this is the mentality that permeates much of the western world. The government is happy to tax, tax, and tax you some more, but when it comes to delivering a service, they take their sweet time and use you as leverage,” he adds.

Henderson then suggests that there are easier, cheaper and more efficient ways to acquire a Portuguese passport:

“For example, if you are married to an EU citizen, he or she can declare themselves resident in Portugal tomorrow and bring you there. Then, you can spend a nominal amount of time in the country each year and still claim a second citizenship after six years. In fact, you don’t even need to be legally married, since Portugal recognizes common law marriages for immigration purposes. Those immigration cases are currently being processed in a matter of a few months.”

Any thoughts you’d like to share with our community on Portugal’s Golden Visa and its current problems?

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