Separate calls from within the governing alliance this week is targeting measures and exemptions aimed at increasing investment in Portugal, most notably by foreigners in the real estate sector.
European Member of Parliament Ana Gomes, a stalwart of the ruling Socialist Party, has this week led a surprise attack against the popular golden visa investment scheme. In comments to i newspaper, Ana Gomes, who is also the Vice President of the European Commission of Financial Crime, stated that the golden visa system is a “perverse scheme”. She explained that golden visas which are aimed at encouraging investment, most notably in high-end real estate, is “a system that prostitutes European citizenship and is a threat to the safety of the Schengen zone. I believe it is a scheme importing corruption and organised crime to the European Union.” Gomes further said that she was not against visas being handed out to select individuals at no cost who would benefit Portuguese society, though explained that she would up the ante against golden visas being “sold in a system that favours corruption.” She based these claims on the fact that she was unable to obtain a list of golden visa investors due to Portugal’s restrictive privacy laws. Gomes wanted the list in order to conduct a background check, but says she was denied this opportunity. “I don’t want their home addresses or bank account details, all I want is their names, which has been denied to me”, explained the MEP, adding: “The only explanation I can find is that if I were to gain access to the list, I would find people on it with criminal records in their home countries and who had not been subjected to due diligence in Portugal by local authorities”. Back in February, the organisation Transparency and Integrity made a similar request with the SEF immigration office, the Economy Ministry and the State Secretary for Fiscal Affairs. SEF is yet to issue a reply, while the Economy Ministry sent the request on to the Ministry for Home Affairs. The office of Fiscal Affairs meanwhile responded they did not have an organised filing system containing these details. The organisation subsequently called for the immediate cessation of the issuing of golden visa, arguing such a move would avoid the risk of facilitating organised crime and money laundering. The most popular means to obtain a golden visa is through an investment of 500,000 euros in real estate, with Chinese topping the list of visa recipients. But Ana Gomes concludes, “China has a limit on transfers out the country of 50,000 euros a year, so it is obvious that the system can only be fraudulent or criminal.” Following this demand for greater scrutiny of golden visa investors, the Left Bloc, part of the ruling leftist alliance, called for an end to the non-habitual residence programme, a system mostly taken advantage of by expat pensioners. With the minority Socialists needing the Left Bloc’s approval of the state budget set to be presented in October, the Bloc is looking to alter the tax benefits handed out to expats under the scheme, most of whom end up purchasing property or retirement homes in Portugal. The Left Bloc is arguing that the tax exemption handed to foreign retirees has resulted in large scale real estate speculation. The party adds that it would also seek to have stricter rules imposed on the issue of golden visas, which it says has also led to considerable short-term and artificial hikes in property prices.