Legal and financial advisers were filmed by an undercover reporter boasting about how easy it was to secure so-called ‘golden visas’ for their clients.
According to secret filming by The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, rich foreigners were able to get British citizenship by paying £2m ($2.49m, €2.23m).
Some of the clients include people linked to the inner circle of Vladimir Putin and the Chinese military; as well as a member of the Gadaffi family, the son of a corrupt Thai government minister, an Egyptian charged with corruption, an Eritrean with possible links to military deals in Angola and millionaires from Iran and Iraq, the investigation revealed.
A spokesperson for the Home Office told International Adviser: “The UK has some of the most rigorous checks in place for investor visas across the world.
“Recent reforms, including the forthcoming wealth audit requirement, are substantial and will further cement our position as a world leader in the fight against financial crime and corruption.”
The reforms will apply to Tier 1 visas (also known as investment visas), and the government has set out a series of steps to strengthen the current system, the spokesperson added.
“Inward investment helps to boost our economy, but we will not tolerate abuse of the system.
“The wealth requirement will be carried out by an independent UK regulated auditor before an investor can make a visa application. The requirement will be introduced in due course.”
The reforms will include:
- Increasing the period investors have to provide evidence of the source of their funds for from 90 days to two years.
- Banks confirming that the applicants have not just opened an account, but also carried out all required due diligence checks.
- Additional rules around investors’ use of intermediaries, to increase transparency around funds.
The spokesperson added: “We are also carrying out a review of historic cases, the key findings of which will be available shortly.
“We regularly engage with key stakeholders on all our visa routes.”
Series of criticism
The Tier 1 scheme had already come under fire and was suspended at the end of 2018 after some applicants were linked to money laundering and organised crime.
Golden visas reforms have been in the pipeline since the beginning of 2019, when the Home Office said it was looking to separate money launderers from “genuine investors”.
It is still not clear how the reforms will be enacted and the timeline for their implementation.