Bulgarian prosecutors probe alleged abuses of ‘golden passports’ scheme

Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office has begun an investigation following allegations of more than 100 cases of people getting Bulgarian citizenship under false pretences through using the “golden passports” scheme.

The “golden passports” scheme involves getting citizenship on the basis of investments.

Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s government has taken steps towards asking Parliament to abolish the scheme, about which the European Commission repeatedly has expressed misgivings.

So far, the draft legislation abolishing the scheme has been approved at first reading by Parliament’s legal affairs committee.

A February 7 statement by the Prosecutor’s Office said that the allegations mostly involved citizens of Russia and China.

The announcement of the investigation follows a news conference on February 4 by Movement for Rights and Freedoms MP Hamid Hamid, who alleged that between 2015 and 2021, people – including some working for China’s intelligence services – had been granted citizenship or residence in Bulgaria on the basis of investments.

But in fact they had paid identical amounts of money into one particular bank, then used photocopies of the deposit slips to be granted citizenship or residence.

Hamid made the allegations after receiving a tip-off. He did not name his source.

It has long been known that the scheme is open to abuse because those depositing money or buying government securities either withdraw the money or dispose of the securities after obtaining Bulgarian citizenship – in turn a gateway to EU citizens’ rights, hence the EC’s concern.

The Prosecutor’s Office said that the Ministry of Justice (which by law processes citizenship applications) had been asked to provide information on each of the cases between 2015 and 2021 involving the scheme.

The Invest Bulgaria Agency had asked for a report on, among other things, whether investments had been made in the process of acquiring citizenship, whether there was evidence of real investments, as well as whether these investments were checked annually up to the point citizenship was acquired.

The State Agency for National Security has been asked to report whether control was exercised regarding the maintenance of investments and other requirements.

The Economy Ministry has been asked to report whether follow-up control was exercised regarding the scheme whereby citizenships were granted.

The Prosecutor’s Office said that if violations were found, it would propose to the relevant authorities to take action. This would mean, in the case of citizenship, revocation by the President, and in the case of residence, revocation by the Interior Ministry.

Any information about crimes would be referred to the relevant structure within the Prosecutor’s Office, the statement said.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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