Britain secretly issued gold visas to Russian oligarchs

The UK government is accused of withholding information after refusing to publish a review of the Tier 1 visa program, known as the Golden Visa Program. It granted residency to wealthy foreigners, including at least ten sanctioned Russian oligarchs, The Observer and The Guardian reported.

Last January, the government published a summary of the Golden Visa investigation but declined to publish a full review.

In 2011, the Conservative-led government promised to “roll out the red carpet for entrepreneurs and investors” by giving those who invested large sums of money faster permanent residency and significantly relaxing residency requirements.

Under the scheme, foreign nationals who have invested £2 million can be granted a visa, with the greater benefits being a higher investment and a “sustainable pathway to highly valued UK citizenship”.

Between 2008 and 2015, checks on the source of income were minimal. Applicants did not need a UK bank account and there were no specific money laundering checks.

About 85% of all gold visas issued to individuals from Russia were issued during this “blind faith” period.

In total, more than 2,500 Russians, including former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and the ex-wife of one of Russia’s richest men, Vladimir Potanin, received investor visas. In November 2019, a London High Court judge ruled that Ms Potanina’s claim against her ex-husband was an example of “marriage tourism” likely made possible by the Golden Visa.

“The golden visas were a shocking loophole for dirty money to enter our economy and for oligarchs to buy their way into this country. We need full transparency about who benefited from it and what went wrong. The government has nothing to hide,” said Labour MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption.

For its part, the U.K. Home Office said it had published key findings from the golden visa review and would not comment further “to protect operational sensitivities in the enforcement process.”

Many countries in the world, apart from Britain, make money from passports.

European “golden” passports and visas are popular with businessmen from Russia, China, and the Middle East.

Among the holders of such documents are billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who received citizenship of Cyprus in early 2018, Yandex founder Arkady Volozh and members of his family who became holders of passports of Malta and others, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Věra Jourová, a member of the European Commission in charge of justice, said, “We want EU member states to sharply increase their vigilance and stop helping criminals and people with dubious reputations to settle in Europe and enjoy the same rights as those who arrived years ago, work, pay taxes – but have to wait longer [than holders of ‘golden passports’] for citizenship.”

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