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UK scraps 'golden visas' for wealthy investors as part of Russia sanctions

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By AP
A woman is silhouetted as she takes a phone call, as the skyline of London is reflected in the polished stones of London Bridge during sunny weather in London, Tuesday, Sept.
A woman is silhouetted as she takes a phone call, as the skyline of London is reflected in the polished stones of London Bridge during sunny weather in London, Tuesday, Sept.   -   Copyright  Frank Augstein/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Britain's government said Thursday it is scrapping so-called “golden visas” offering residency to wealthy foreign investors amid security concerns and renewed calls for the U.K. to review its links with Russia.

The Home Office said the Tier 1 investor visa route has given opportunities for “corrupt elites to access the U.K." It said that in some cases, the visas have “given rise to security concerns, including people acquiring their wealth illegitimately and being associated with wider corruption.”

The visa route, which was introduced in 2008, offered residency to people investing 2 million pounds ($2.7 million) or more in the U.K. and allows their families to join them. The individuals could then apply for permanent residency in as little as two years depending on how much is invested.

The system will be shut to all new applicants from all nationalities with immediate effect, the government said.

Many of those who acquired such visas were Russians, and critics have long questioned whether the policy facilitated money laundering in the U.K. because not enough background checks are made on applicants. Concerns about Moscow's reach in the U.K. have intensified as the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looms.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the move was part of the government's crackdown on illicit finance.

“I want to ensure the British people have confidence in the system, including stopping corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities," Patel said in a statement.

A 2018 report published by Parliament's foreign affairs committee warned that officials could be risking national security by ignoring what it called Russian “dirty money” in London.

Asked Thursday about cracking down on Russian money in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to bring in “tough sanctions” against Russia.

“Clearly, it’s time to bring in some tough sanctions against the Russian regime, against big Russian companies — organizations of strategic importance. And also making sure that we stop the raising of funds by Russian companies on London financial markets,” Johnson said.