Hungary has sold visas to Russian businessmen in exchange for hundreds of thousands of euros. Permits were also given to the family of the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence chief, who is covered by European sanctions. EURACTIV Poland’s media partner Gazeta Wyborcza reports.
The Russians in question stayed in the EU thanks to the permanent residence visa programme, which was in force in Hungary between 2013-2017 before being suspended last year.
In exchange for the purchase of government bonds worth between €250 and €300,000, non-EU citizens were granted a residence permit and could travel throughout the entire Schengen area.
At that time, 20,000 people took advantage of this opportunity, mainly from China, Russia and Arab countries.
A controversial visa programme
Media reports from time to time reveal who was granted a permit, many of whom were unable to obtain visas through regular channels.
Some were suspected of violations of human rights in their own country, others of links to terrorism or participation in organised crime.
Details unveiled by investigative journalists from Direkt36 and the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta have just received testimonies to the fact that the Hungarian administration ignored any question marks over some cases when granting the right of residence to the participants of the programme.
One case was Dmitry Pavlov, who in the past was the leader of the Moscow mafia “Izmaylovskaya”, currently sponsor of veterans of the Russian army and special services, and Alexei Jankevich, president of Gazprom Nieftu, the third largest producer of crude oil in Russia.
The list also includes the former vice president of Rosatom, who applied for a permit while he was accused of corruption back home in Russia.
Others included relatives of Sergei Naryshkin, currently the director of Russian foreign intelligence. Naryshkin, one of President Putin’s closest collaborators, was also banned from entering the European Union after the Russian invasion of Crimea (he was the chairman of the Russian Duma at the time).
Journalists determined that his son and his family got permanent residence, which enabled him to travel around Europe.
The programme ended up being nixed after media reports showed taxpayers were footing an extra bill to run it and the profits were mainly being drawn by people gathered around Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
They championed a monopoly for certain companies to grant permanent residency. From each person interested, they took between €40,000 and €60,000.
The article was published as part of the EURACTIV.pl media partnership with Gazeta Wyborcza.