Portugal’s Golden Visa scheme, a way of facilitating European entry for non-EU foreigners, has come under scrutiny after leaked documents list some of the criminals and dodgy politicians who have applied and been granted the covered status.
The documents focus on Latin American and Angolan nationals who have received a Golden Visa after buying a property in Portugal for €500,000 or more in exchange for permanent residency.
After five years, residency can be converted to citizenship, granting investors the right to Schengen area travel and to live and work in Europe under existing EU rules.
A businessman sentenced to 18-years under house arrest and the former president of a scandal-ridden construction company are among those named in the leaked documents.
Portugal’s government admits that since the Golden Visa scheme began in 2012, two thirds of the visas issued have been to Chinese applicants.
It is illegal for Chinese nationals to transfer more than USD50,000 out of the country in any one year.
As for Angolan applicants, Portugal long has been used as a convenient laundry for stolen money with Angolan vice-president, Manuel Vicente, and family members receiving Golden Visas.
Vincente, who until 2012 was the chief executive of the country’s oil company, Sonangol, faces jail time after bribing a Portuguese magistrate in order to drop an investigation into his property purchases.
Other recipients of Golden Visas named in the leaked documents include:
- Carlos Pires Oliveira Dias, the vice-president of the Camargo Correa construction group, invested €1.5m in Portugal under the golden resident programme in 2014. Camargo Correa has also been linked to the Brazilian corruption scandal, reportedly repaying 700m reais (£168m) to state companies in compensation for corrupt practices. The company was seeking a deal earlier his year. Oliveira Dias confirmed that he had obtained a golden visa.
- José Mauricio Caldeira sits on the board of the holding company behind Asperbras, a Brazilian conglomerate with interests in sectors from geology to agribusiness. A police investigation, Operation Atlantic Route, is examining the firm’s relationship with José Veiga, a businessman arrested last year on suspicion of corruption offences. A spokesperson for Caldeira confirmed that he acquired a Portuguese apartment in 2014 for €1m under the country’s golden visa programme and had since taken up residence there. They said both he and shareholders of Asperbras were cooperating fully with investigators.
- Otávio Azevedo, the former president of Brazil’s second-largest construction company, Andrade Gutierrez. He received an 18-year sentence last year after admitting a string of corruption offences.Two years before his arrest, Azevedo bought a €1.4m property in Lisbon and subsequently applied for a golden visa in 2014.
- João Manuel Inglês is an Angolan colonel and aide to Gen Manuel Helder Vieira Dias, better known as Kopelipa, head of the Angolan military and one of the most powerful figures in Angola. Inglês, who was accused in a US class action lawsuit of being a figurehead for Kopelipa and two other Angolan ruling figures, applied for a Portuguese golden visa in 2013. He did not respond to requests for comment.
- Pedro Sebastião Teta, the Angolan secretary of state for IT, applied for a golden visa in 2013. The following year he was reported to own 30% of a company called Impulso Angola, which was awarded a contract by the government to map the country’s mineral resources. He did not respond to requests for comment.
- Sebastião Gaspar Martins, the executive director of Sonangol’s Brazilian arm, sought a Portuguese golden visa in 2014. He has been cited as a possible successor to Vicente as vice-president. Martins declined to comment on the golden visa.
- Another applicant was Mir Jamal Pashayev, the head of one of Azerbaijan’s most powerful families and the director of Pasha Holding. Pashayev’s niece is Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev. Neither Pashayev nor Pasha Holding responded to repeated requests for comment.
These Golden Visa applicants, and many others, have sparked the interest of financial crime experts as property long has been used to launder money yet the government’s Foreign and Borders Service is certain that its exhaustive checks threw up no reasons for rejection.
The government said its Golden Visa scheme “strictly follows all legally established security procedures” and that authorities had “adequate tools which safeguard lawfulness and security” despite the scheme having to be shut down in 2014 for a while as officials were charged with accepting bribes to grant visas.
“All applications are subject to review following an evaluation process, by means of criminal records and consultation of national and international databases, as well as the exchange of information in the framework of police cooperation,” claims the government but it remains unclear how so many Chinese have managed to qualify despite a percentage likely to have broken exchange control regulations.
The General Inspectorate of Internal Administration (IGAI) audited the process of granting visas and found no irregularities with the SEF stating that its procedures include the evaluation of criminal records, consultation of national and international databases, exchange of information held by polcie forces.