Portugal’s government is in damage control mode after news broke last week that officials are suspected of corruption in relation to the country’s “golden visa” residency program. As a result of the golden visa scandal, Interior Minister Miguel Macedo has resigned from his position, despite claiming to have no involvement in the scandal.
More than 200 police officers conducted 60 raids across the country Nov. 13 in an operation called “Labyrinth,” detaining 11 people. Persons detained included the head of Portugal’s border agency, the president of the registration and notary institute, and a senior official from the justice ministry. Police commented that the people detained were suspected of corruption, money-laundering, influence-peddling, and embezzlement.
The visa program allows foreigners who buy property for at least 500,000 euros to gain five-year residency permits. The visa holders would then also be permitted to travel throughout the 26 European countries that form the open-borders Schengen Area.
Allegedly, purchases under the program for less than the 500,000 euro minimum, with the difference being paid under the table to officials.
The visa program has previously been regarded by many, especially the Portugese government, as a huge success. As one of the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) that struggled as a result of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, Portugal encouraged the program as an effective way to encourage foreign investment into the country.
It is unclear whether the golden visa program will be scrapped as a result of the scandal. The program remains a legitimate option for those looking for a residency visa and is one of the best of its kind at that.
Portugal has raised more than 1 billion euros from 1,700 visas issued under the program since its introduction in 2012.
The program has come under attack from opposition politicians previously. In March, Socialist Party member of the European Parliament Ana Gomes told the BBC that, “There might be all sorts of corrupt and even criminal organisations behind those who are benefiting from these schemes…and it might be another very dangerous avenue to import additional corruption and criminality into the EU.”
With a general election is less than a year away, the scandal could be especially harmful for Portugal’s Social Democratic center-right government.