Portugal’s Russian golden visa ‘scam’

Expresso lifts lid on how oligarchs can wriggle round ‘the rules’ and European sanctions

São Cristóvão e Neves (better known to Brits as Saint Kitts) is a dual-island nation in the Caribbean with around 55,000 inhabitants. It is a former British colony, and as such operates as both an ‘fiscal offshore’ and a haven for those seeking to purchase citizenship.

“All you need to do is invest 150,000 dollars in the archipelago, and within around six months, the whole family of said investor can become citizens of the islands ‘with no obligation ever to set foot on them’.

This ‘golden passport’ serves to allow free-travel to 157 countries, Portugal included – and (this is the interesting part for Portuguese-focused readers), this ‘nationality of convenience’ can also be used to obtain a golden visa in European countries, Portugal included.

Since 2012, when the golden visa scheme was introduced, SEF borders and foreigners agency has attributed 35 coveted ARIs (authorisations of residency through investment, more commonly known as ‘golden visas’) to citizens of Saint Kitts “whose nationality of origin have not been included in statistics”.

In other words, these 35 golden visas holders, with free passage in Schengen Space/ UK/ Hong Kong/ Singapore “hide the real weight of certain countries’ recourse to golden visas, namely Russia”, says Expresso.

“According to data published by the Ministry of Internal Administration (MAI) there are 431 Russians in Portugal with ARI (golden visas) of which 21 live here permanently. But there will be many more. Dozens do not appear in official numbers because they obtained their visas with the passport that was most convenient for them. The one that was most discreet; would raise fewer alerts…”

Such strategies aren’t confined to citizens of Saint Kitts. They can be citizens of Dominica, Antigua, Barbuda, Granada and Vanuatu, explains Expresso. “All have requests (for golden visas) filed and authorised in Portugal”.

Expresso’s source adds that there are also the situations of Russians with dual nationalities (countries that were formerly part of the USSR, like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, even Kyrgyzstan).

If one adds the ARIs conceded to these citizens, there are another 105 attributed by Portugal.

As the paper explains, ‘part of these will be Russians’.

And here Expresso addresses the political concerns about Portugal’s golden visas policy. It hasn’t only helped Russians using ‘convenient nationalities’. It has helped Iranians, Syrians, Indians – all using Caribbean ‘offshores’ to camouflage their true origins.

None of this is honourable – but neither is it ‘exclusive to Portugal’, and as the power behind the scheme Paulo Portas said years ago, if Portugal wanted to be honourable about this, it would simply lose substantial revenue to other countries with fewer scruples.

Portugal has “minutely analysed Russian golden visa holders” 

… and found them all to be ‘squeaky clean’.

Put another way, these wealthy people have invested around €278 million in Portugal in the last decade, and none of their names have ‘set off any alarms’, says Expresso

Not so the ‘minute analysis’ of wealthy Russians applying for ARIs.

“At the end of January” (long before sanctions brought in because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine) SEF received a request for a golden visa from a Russian woman intent on purchasing a property.

“At the same time, the applicant asked for ‘family reunification’ on the back of ARI concession. The list of names included, “among others, her husband”.

“She believed that she would rapidly receive the authorisation of residency and could bring her entire family”, a source for SEF has told Expresso.

“Identification of her husband was registered in the database”, and when the list of Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the EU was made public, his name was there

For now, the request for ARI has been blocked. A source for the office of minister Francisca Van Dunem (running MAI and the Justice department for the time being) told Expresso: “all processes pertaining to Russian citizens have been suspended” – and will presumably remain so until the EU changes its policy.

As to the identity of this ‘thwarted oligarch’, Expresso has no real leads. Various sources have said the whole subject is “under lock and key” in the office of SEF’s national director Lieutenant-general Moniz Botelho.

Very soon a new overview of requests for ARIs will be performed as this week more names were added to the blacklist, namely of businessmen in the transport, telecoms and chemical sectors”, says the paper.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted for an end of the EU golden visa regimes as they run currently. This follows years in which MEPs and NGOs have been pushing for this kind of joint resolution, in the name of transparency and the combat of money-laundering/ corruption/ organised crime.

The way forwards now will be ‘rigorous background checks’; total investigation of sources of wealth – and, with regard to Russian oligarchs, says Expresso,  ‘zero tolerance’.

“All Member States will have to cease, with immediate effect, regimes of citizenship and residency through investment of any Russian applicants. Portugal has already done this. But the appeals from the European Parliament did not stop there. MPs want to ‘look back’ and re-evaluate all visas approved in the last few years, “exploring all possibilities offered by national and European Union legislation” in order to “guarantee that no Russian citizen with financial, business or any other kind of links to the regime of (Vladimir) Putin maintains his/ her rights to citizenship or residency and/ or to guarantee that these people are temporarily prohibited from exercising these rights”.

Where this leaves Portugal’s richest citizen Roman Abramovich – conceded Portuguese nationality on the basis of Sephardic Jew ancestry that is still under some level of reappraisal – we can only ‘wait and see’.

Expresso’s article concludes: “Since the launch of Portugal’s golden visa programme 10 years ago, 10,442 ARI have been attributed. Russians have been the 5th nationality most benefitted”.

The nationality at the top of the list is China.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com