UK ‘golden’ visas review finds risk of links to illicit money

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LONDON, Jan 12 (Reuters) – The British government said on Thursday that a small number of people who had obtained so-called “golden visas” for rich investors might have obtained their wealth through corruption or other illicit financial activity.

The government scrapped the visas last year, which had offered a route to residency for those investing at least 2 million pounds ($2.43 million), in the days before the invasion of Ukraine amid concerns about the inflow of illicit Russian money.

A review was first commissioned by the government in 2018 after the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, and details of that investigation were only released to parliament on Thursday.

“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,” the Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a written statement.

From Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern oil barons to newly minted Chinese entrepreneurs, the wealthy have flocked to London over the past two decades, snapping up everything from opulent homes to soccer clubs and commercial property.

The influx of super-rich has brought tens of billions of pounds in investment and helped London preserve its position as one of the world’s top financial capitals, but the government has been concerned by the source of some of the wealth, particularly in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Braverman said the review found that applicants for the visas “attracted a disproportionate number of applicants from the countries identified in the UK’s National Risk Assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing”.

The review also found “evidence of high-risk applicants seeking out and exploiting financial institutions that had the weakest customer due diligence controls”, she said.

The government declined to give an estimate of the number of visas issued inappropriately to those with potentially criminal backgrounds, but Braverman said that ten unnamed oligarchs sanctioned over their links to Russian’s invasion of Ukraine were among those who had used the system.

($1 = 0.8226 pounds)

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