MEPs will vote on banning 'golden passports' to hurt Putin allies

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By Shona Murray
A demonstrator takes a mock copy of Cyprus passport during a demonstration against corruption outside of the conference center in the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2020.
A demonstrator takes a mock copy of Cyprus passport during a demonstration against corruption outside of the conference center in the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2020.   -   Copyright  Petros Karadjias/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

European lawmakers are calling on the European Commission to ban so-called ‘golden passports’ to prevent Russian oligarchs from bypassing sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.

MEPs will vote on Wednesday on whether the sale of EU passports to third-country citizens should be phased out by 2025, along with new regulations that should be imposed to make it impossible to use EU citizenship to evade sanctions.

Between 2011 and 2019 the golden passport industry raised over 20 billion euros for EU member states including Malta, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, and Cyprus, with at least 130,000 people taking part in schemes.

In a number of these states, citizenship is provided in return for significant property investment.

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told Euronews that Russians are the largest group of third-party nationals that have benefitted from the scheme and that many are close to the Putin regime.

“It attracts very shady characters, shady business. We have seen that there are a lot of Russian oligarchs for example that have bought citizenship or residency in the EU,” she said.

“In the past, there have been war criminals, or indeed the entire Saudi royal family at some point acquired citizenship which has been revoked. So this is not about legitimate investment in the economy of the EU.”

She said there were cases in Malta and Cyprus where the information required by the authorities had not been provided adequately.

“Let’s face it if you see where people are coming from: the main groups are Russian and Chinese so that means you have to rely on Russia and Chinese to provide us with background information on oligarchs who are close to Putin. How reliable is that information?” she said.

The report will go to the European Commission which will assess how to proceed.

MEPs are also calling for a levy from each country benefitting from issuing golden passports and residency schemes where proceeds should go towards the EU budget.