Non-Europeans can buy European Union citizenship entitling them to live and work in Britain for as little as £150,000 under a scheme operating in Bulgaria, an investigation by The Telegraph has disclosed.
Undercover reporters posing as representatives of an Indian businessman were told that a Bulgarian passport could be legally obtained without the need to live or work in Bulgaria. So long as applicants can deposit sufficient funds, they need only visit the east European country for two days to obtain all the rights of EU citizens.
Even someone with a criminal record who has been turned down for a British passport can qualify for Bulgarian citizenship under the scheme, agents brokering the deal said.
The fast-track programme was quietly introduced just weeks before restrictions on Bulgarian nationals living and working in other EU countries were dropped earlier this year. Hundreds of foreign nationals are already believed to have applied for EU citizenship under the scheme.
This newspaper began an investigation after being approached by a whistleblower who warned of a lack of checks and balances on the issuing of Bulgarian passports. Earlier this month, undercover journalists approached several companies based in the country asking about the possibility of buying citizenship for a rich Indian businessman.
Arton Capital, a “one stop shop for citizenship” with offices in Sofia, London and Dubai, explained that there were extensive benefits from buying a Bulgarian passport.
Milan Keremedchiev, the vice-president of the firm, said: “When you become a Bulgarian citizen, then you have all … the rights of an EU citizen, you live, study, work, settle down, uh, anywhere within the European Union.”
He added: “When the main applicant receives his Bulgarian citizenship, within three months, the children … apply and receive Bulgarian citizenship based on what I told you before, one of the parents being Bulgarian.”
He set out three different options for obtaining Bulgarian citizenship, for which his firm would charge a fee of more than £50,000 ($83,000). Under the first route, an individual deposits about £425,000 ($707,000) in a Bulgarian bank.
After six months, the individual receives “permanent residency”. After five years, they can apply for European citizenship, at which point the applicant receives their money back from the bank.
Under the second system, the applicant borrows the £425,000 from a Bulgarian bank and pays the institution around £150,000 ($250,000) in interest up front. As with the first option, they can apply for Bulgarian citizenship after five years. Mr Keremedchiev said that about 85% of Arton Capital’s applicants opted for this route.
A third option is also available for clients. Here, applicants paying around £235,000 ($390,000) are fast-tracked and citizenship is received in two years. This process was brought in at the end of the last year.
Mr Keremedchiev said that a parent with several children wishing to study at a British university could save large amounts of money.
“It’s an EU passport, yes, but … since the first of January 2014, anywhere in the European Union you can settle down and live, work, study, take your kids to school. Of course, you know that the different prices in universities for EU and non-EU citizens and so on,” he said.
For example, an EU or British student studying Preclinical Medicine at Oxford University would pay £9,000 ($15,000) a year in tuition fees, but an overseas student would pay £16,545 ($27,500) a year. EU residents studying as undergraduates in Scotland are entitled to free tuition.
The passport broker explained that potential clients would barely have to visit Bulgaria to qualify for citizenship, because the firm can provide clients with a “virtual” address.
“[It] is a valid address, checked by the immigration authorities,” he said, adding: “It’s a one-day trip, you go in and gone. So if … I mean, we have good flights, good connections, you fly out the same day…”
* * *
It is still a lot of money. It would keep out a great many.