Home Office accused of cover-up over ‘golden visas’ for super-rich Russians

The government has been accused of a cover-up for refusing to publish a review of the so-called golden visa scheme that allowed wealthy investors, including at least 10 sanctioned Russian oligarchs, to take up residency in the UK.

The Tier 1 visa scheme, whereby super-rich individuals could buy the right to live in the UK by investing in British-registered companies, was closed in February 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, amid concerns that the system was being abused.

But the government has repeatedly refused to publish a review of the visa scheme that was launched in 2018, in the wake of the nerve agent attack targeting former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

“[It is] highly inappropriate and scandalous for the government to block this vital information,” said campaigner Bill Browder, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, after the Home Office rejected a Freedom of Information request for the golden visa report filed by the investigative Substack account Democracy for Sale.

“This is no longer a political issue but a matter of national security. These visas should be withdrawn immediately.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran has written to home secretary James Cleverly calling for the review to be published immediately. “Frankly, the whole thing stinks of a cover-up. We know Putin’s cronies used and abused this scheme – so why won’t the government give us the full picture? On the two-year anniversary of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and following the death of Alexei Navalny at the hands of Putin, I am again asking the government to publish the findings of the review, where they relate to economic crime, in full.” she said.

The government issued a summary of the findings of the golden visa investigation last January but refused to release the review.

In a written statement to parliament, then home secretary Suella Braverman said that the golden visa route had attracted a disproportionate number of applicants from countries identified by the government as at risk of money-laundering and terrorist funding.

Braverman said that the review found that a minority of golden visa investors were “potentially at high risk” of having links to corruption or organised crime, including 10 Russians sanctioned following the Ukraine invasion.

Residency through investment was introduced in 1994. The scheme was rebranded Tier 1 (Investor) Visa in 2008, under a new points-based immigration system to attract investors in the wake of the financial crisis.

Margaret Hodge said golden visas were a ‘shocking loophole for dirty money’. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

In 2011, the Conservative-led government pledged to “roll out the red carpet for entrepreneurs and investors”, by giving those who invested larger sums of money permanent residency faster, and significantly relaxing residency requirements.

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Under the scheme, foreign nationals who invested £2m could be granted a visa, with more benefits the higher the investment and a “steady path” to achieving “much-prized UK citizenship”.

Between 2008 and 2015, there were minimal checks on the source of wealth. Applicants did not need a UK bank account and there were no specific money laundering checks.

Some 85% of all golden visas given to individuals from Russia were handed out during this “blind faith” period. The parliamentary intelligence and security committee’s “Russia report” – eventually published in 2020 – warned that “the exploitation of the UK’s investor visa scheme” was “the key to London’s appeal” for Russian oligarchs and their money.

In all more than 2,500 Russians held investor visas, including former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and the former wife of Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s richest men and the former wife of Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s richest men.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption, said: “Golden visas were a shocking loophole for dirty money to make its way into our economy, and for oligarchs to buy their way into this country. We need full transparency on who benefited from it and what went wrong. The government should have nothing to hide.”

The Home Office said that it had published key findings from the golden visa review and would not comment further “to protect operational sensitivities in the law enforcement process”.


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