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Portugal interior minister resigns over ‘golden visas’ probe

Portugal’s Interior Minister Miguel Macedo resigned Sunday, three days after top officials were detained in a corruption probe linked to “golden visas” for wealthy foreign investors.

Several senior government officials, including the head of the border service, were arrested after police raids on dozens of premises Thursday, including the interior and environment ministries and offices linked to the justice ministry.

Macedo, 55, who had been in the job since 2011, said he “had no personal responsibility” in the case but his “political authority” had been weakened by the scandal.

In televised comments, he said he had quit to “defend the government and the authority of the state and the credibility of its institutions.

“Portuguese police made a total of 11 arrests in Thursday’s raids on charges including corruption, money laundering and influence peddling in connection with the visa scheme.

Among those held were Manuel Jarmela Palos, the head of the frontier police agency SEF, Maria Antonia Anes, the secretary general of the justice ministry, and Antonio Figueiredo, the head of the Institute of Registries and Notaries.

While Macedo has not been targeted in the probe, he has close ties to Figueiredo, Portuguese weekly Expresso said Sunday.

Portugal launched the “golden visa” scheme in 2012 while grappling with a debt crisis.

Under the scheme, foreign investors buying property worth 500,000 euros ($623,000) or more and keeping it for at least five years received residency rights in Portugal and more importantly, visa-free travel throughout the European Union’s Schengen zone.

Since its launch, the scheme has raked in more than one billion euros.

A total of 1,649 golden visas have been granted, mostly to Chinese nationals.

The other options offered to get residency rights in Portugal include transferring at least one million euros into the country or creating at least 10 new jobs there.

Once the residency rights have been granted, the beneficiaries are only required to spend seven days in a year in Portugal.