As the nation’s press continues to publish new revelations in the so-called Golden Visa scandal, SOL weekly has revealed there is an entire village near the sea in Alcobaça planned to welcome wealthy Chinese to a new life in Portugal.
The “luxury residential neighbourhood” involves an investment of €35 million and is being pushed by four Chinese businessmen who themselves have taken advantage of Portugal’s hugely successful Golden Visa programme.
Under the scheme, any Chinese bringing money into Portugal by way of business ventures or high-end property purchases is offered a fast-tracked residency visa that gives unlimited access to all Schengen countries.
This new Chinatown project will offer its properties at prices that instantly qualify for a visa – in other words, all with a price tag in excess of €500,000.
The 57 four- and five-bedroom homes will boast their own gardens and be set around an artificial lake.
Included in the project is a hotel, conference centre, private language school, tennis courts, swimming pools and spa.
The only fly-in-the-ointment is that five of the seven hectares chosen for the development in the picturesque setting of Alfeizerão, near S. Martinho do Porto, lie in “agricultural reserve” belt land, and will thus require special dispensation from the Ministry of Agriculture before they can be built on.
According to SOL, however, this shouldn’t be difficult. Local mayor Paulo Inácio is taking the issue to his next council meeting and is fairly sure of all-party support.
The council’s enthusiasm will almost certainly sway the agricultural ministry, Inácio told SOL, although the final say-so remains with the government.
As Inácio points out, “processual celerity” is all-important as “for these Chinese businessmen, it is important to invest now”.
Following up on the story, national tabloid Correio da Manhã finds locals all for the idea.
“It’s good for us, as the population here is elderly and we need movement and progress. These people will be welcomed if they bring wealth to the area,” Filipa Sardinha told reporters.
“The Chinese community is relatively closed and can keep itself to itself,” Luís Bento, a resident of Alfeizerão considered. “But they will be well received by everyone here, I am quite sure.”
President of Portugal’s Chinese League, Y Ping Chow, told SOL that the project was “ground-breaking” and promised to change the way Chinese invested in Portugal.
Golden visa applications pick up speed
Meantime, the number of Chinese applying for Portugal’s Golden Visa programme has once again picked up speed after plummeting at the end of last year, in the wake of the Golden Visa corruption scandal.
In November 2014, before the scandal broke, 161 Chinese had put in for fast-tracked visas during the month. These numbers slowed to just 78 applications in January, but began picking up in February with numbers now well over 100 applicants per month.
As Y Ping Chow told SOL, the resident Chinese community in Portugal should now number well over 20,000.
Bad news for Operation Labyrinth defendants
But as the “good news” shines on the Chinese community and promises lucrative spin-offs in Alcobaça, defendants in Operation Labyrinth – the name of the investigation into Golden Visa corruption – got more “bad news” via the national press this week.
Sábado weekly reports that phone taps not only prove that former SEF boss Manuel Palos received financial kick-backs for “accelerating” visa applications – a charge he has consistently denied – but that former interior minister Miguel Macedo may well be implicit in the crime of prevarication.
Sábado claims that the minister who resigned in the wake of the scandal may also have “favoured close friends and Chinese businessmen” who were clients of his private law firm.
As investigators pull together a veritable Ariadne’s thread of corruption, former notary institute boss António Figueiredo and Chinese businessman Zhu Xaiaodong remain in preventive custody. Two other defendants – former secretary general of the Ministry of Justice Maria Antónia Anes and businessman Jaime Gomes are “at home on electronic bracelets” while seven others, including Palos, are “free” on varying forms of bail.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]