CITIZENSHIP AND RESIDENCY: Bulgaria targets those involved in ‘golden passports’ scheme.

As published on euractiv.com, Wednesday 25 January, 2023.

The former head of the country’s investment agency and current member of the supervisory board of the state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank, Stamen Yanev, is being investigated by the country’s prosecution for his involvement in the “golden passport” scheme.

The controversial scheme, now shelved following EU pressure, saw wealthy third country nationals granted Bulgarian citizenship in return for an investment of €1 million in the country. Cyprus had a similar programme that was also suspended following corruption scandal, while Malta remains the only EU country offering citizenship for investment, despite official proceedings being taken against it by the Commission.

Yanev is facing a charge of criminal inaction, though the prosecutor’s office has not indicated what harmful consequences his actions caused the state, as is required by the Bulgarian Criminal Code.

The prosecutor’s office claims that Yanev’s actions have only led to the shaking of “public trust in the proper functioning of the executive power and have created distrust in the activities of the Bulgarian Investment Agency”.

The case is one of the few in which the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office prosecutes high-ranking officials.

According to lawyers EURACTIV spoke to on the condition of anonymity, such an accusation cannot be proven in court as public trust in the Bulgarian Investment Agency cannot be measured by forensic experts.

“The investigation in the case continues. A wide range of facts is to be clarified, and when sufficient evidence is collected for other acts or for the guilt of other persons, new charges will be brought,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

In February 2022, the prosecutor’s office started paying particular attention to the golden passports scheme, following an anonymous tip.

DPS MP Hamid Hamid said he received the anonymous tip in his mailbox in parliament, containing information that more than 120 Chinese and Russian citizens had received a Bulgarian passport. It was later found that many of the investments made in order to qualify for the scheme were of little substance.

For several years, the “golden passports” scheme hindered Bulgaria from joining the visa-free Schengen area and made the US refrain from abolishing visas for the Balkan country.

The scheme involved not only the Bulgarian Investment Agency, but also counterintelligence, the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, several banks and law firms, which had a very strong influence when GERB, and DPS before it, were part of the government.