Bulgaria scraps ‘golden passports’ scheme amid Russia sanctions

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Bulgaria on Thursday abolished its controversial “golden passports” scheme offering citizenship of the EU member state in return for substantial investment, which had been criticized by Brussels.

The scheme made it possible for foreigners to acquire residency when they invested a minimum of 500,000 euros ($570,000) in Bulgaria, and citizenship when they invested one million euros.

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The beneficiaries were primarily from Russia, China and the Middle East.

Bulgaria’s new government, which has made fighting corruption a key priority, had already urged parliament to discontinue the granting of such passports in January.

The decision by Bulgarian MPS on Thursday comes after the awarding of “golden passports” was again condemned by the European Parliament in the light of Western sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, MEPs repeated their call on Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus to scrap both “golden passports” and “golden visas.”

The European Commission has repeatedly called for the abolition of such schemes because they create an incentive for corruption and money laundering.

As part of the decision, MPs also authorized a full review of all passports granted since the scheme was launched in 2013.

According to the justice ministry, around 100 such passports have been awarded to date.

The previous interim administration had last year flagged concerns about possible irregularities in 47 cases.

Despite the decision, there will still be the option of acquiring a residence permit under the scheme.

Malta has also said it would suspend granting "golden passports" to Russians and Belarusians until further notice following the invasion of Ukraine.

According to the European Parliament, at least 130,000 people obtained a “golden passport” or a “golden visa” in the bloc between 2011 and 2019, generating 21.8 billion euros for the countries concerned.

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