‘Golden Visa’ Chinese man arrested for fraud

‘Golden Visa’ Chinese man arrested for fraud (UPDATE)

As monied Chinese investors embrace Portugal’s Golden Visa programme, the ‘downside’ of the scheme has become all too apparent. Polícia Judiciária arrested a 42-year-old Chinese man in Cascais last week after an international warrant for his arrest was issued by Interpol. The man is wanted for a series of frauds in China and the Chinese authorities are now seeking his extradition from Portugal so that he can serve a 10-year prison sentence.
In response to the news, João Semedo of the Bloco da Esquerda said the golden visa scheme was transforming the country into a “paradise for international conmen” and money launderers.
As Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes predicted at the outset of the Golden Visa initiative launched by deputy prime minister Paulo Portas last year: “There might be all sorts of corrupt and even criminal organisations behind those who are benefiting … It might simply be another very dangerous avenue to import additional corruption and criminality into the EU.”
Talking to the BBC before this latest scandal, Gomes stressed her concerns were related to other European countries operating similar schemes – not just to Portugal.
“Ana Gomes says cash-strapped European countries are so focussed on reviving their property industries that they are not looking at the potential risks,” writes BBC interviewer Susana Mendonça in a report entitled “The winners and losers of Portugal’s golden visa scheme”.
Despite assurances by Portuguese communities minister José Cesário that there is “nothing to worry about” and that all incoming applications for the visa programme are “scrutinised”, last week’s arrest would indicate procedures need to be tightened. According to the authorities, Interpol only issued the international arrest warrant a month after Xiaodong Wang was given his golden visa, but investigators in China would have been aware of his alleged crimes before that.
Reporting on the arrest, Rádio Renascença claimed Wang “had bought the property that gave him the right for a visa with money obtained illegally”.
Wang was arrested last Thursday by the PJ’s anti-corruption squad and appeared before Lisbon’s Tribunal de Relação on Friday for a preliminary hearing.
Público reports that if the court decides to go ahead with his extradition – which he is understood to be contesting – the order will have to be signed by Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz.
Meantime, demand for Golden Visas is “so high” that Chinese businessman Brian Tang told the BBC he has opened a branch of his immigration agency in Lisbon precisely in order to put applicants in touch with Portuguese estate agents.
“There is a huge appetite from China coming over to Portugal,” said Tang. “Eighty per cent of the applicants are Chinese.”
Part of the appeal, he told Mendonça, was the “flexibility” of the programme. Foreigners only have to be in Portugal for seven days in the first year of residency.
It is the “flexibility” that has worried people like Ana Gomes. “I think it is a race to the bottom. It is actually very anti-EU,” she told Mendonça. “Each country is trying to outdo the other in terms of better conditions.”
While in Portugal and Spain investors have a minimum spend of €500,000 on a property to get a visa, in Cyprus it is €300,000, and in Greece it is €250,000 – and with this outlay, the non-EU nationals receive free circulation throughout Europe as well as other fiscal benefits.
Golden Visa ‘update’
The very first Golden Visa was issued to Indian businessman Muthu Nesam last year, but since then, “the vast majority of golden visas have been attributed to Chinese business people”, writes Público. Of the 542 visas conceded by the middle of February this year, 433 were to Chinese, 23 were to Russians, 14 went to Brazilians and another 14 to Angolans.
By the end of 2013, the 417 visas attributed by the State represented a total investment of €316 million. Of this amount, 90% referred to the acquisition of property, the rest to the transfer of capital, writes Público, adding that right now, there are 400 Chinese awaiting decisions on golden visa applications.
Since the start of the scheme, 11 applicants have been refused, adds Público, one of them after inquiries discovered he was a member of a Chinese triad involved in organised crime since 1990.