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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

'Golden visas' for wealthy investors linked to corruption, review finds

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A review of so-called “golden visas” has found a “small” number of foreign investors were “potentially at high risk” of having links to corruption or organised crime.

The findings were set out by the home secretary after the government shut down Tier 1 investor visas last year.

The fast-track scheme was introduced in 2008 to encourage wealthy people from outside the EU to invest in the UK.

Prior to being shut, there had been concerns the scheme was open to abuse.

The government halted the scheme in February 2022 saying it had “failed to deliver for the UK people and gave opportunities for corrupt elites to access the UK”.

  • UK scraps rich foreign investor visa scheme

As far back as 2020, Parliament’s intelligence and security committee had argued for a “more robust” approach to approving Tier 1 investor visas as part of a report on Russian influence in the UK.

Labour said the government had produced a “totally inadequate response” to “very serious corruption and criminality concerns” about the “golden visa” scheme.

Ten of the individuals sanctioned following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had come to the UK via the Tier 1 route, said shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

But ministers had failed to provide answers on “basic questions” raised a year ago when the scheme was suspended, she added, including about how many golden visas had been revoked and how many recipients had been granted citizenship,

She called on Home Secretary Suella Braverman to come to Parliament “at the earliest opportunity” and publish a more detailed report.

The Tier 1 investor visa offered residency to those investing £2m or more in the UK, and allowed their families to join them.

‘Cover-up’

Holders of these visas could then apply for permanent residency in the UK, at a speed depending on how much they invested.

A £2m investment allowed an application within five years, shortened to three years with £5m or two years if £10m was invested.

Ms Braverman said in a written statement to Parliament that the home office had looked at 6,312 Tier 1 investor migrants and adult dependants who had obtained leave to remain between 2008 and 2015.

She said each case was reviewed for “potential links to criminality or other risk factors”. Officials also considered wider risks in the design of and implementation of the scheme, and the overall economic benefit of the route.

“The review of cases identified a small minority of individuals connected to the Tier 1 investor visa route that were potentially at high risk of having obtained wealth through corruption or other illicit financial activity, and/or being engaged in serious and organised crime.”

In response, the Liberal Democrats said the move “stinks of a cover-up” as the government had not published the actual review into Tier 1 visas, just a statement on it.

“We need to know to what extent the government let Kremlin-linked oligarchs treat this country as their playground.

“If the Conservatives have nothing to hide, then they will have nothing to fear. The review must be published in full, right away,” said Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran.

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