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Top officials held in Portugal ‘golden visa’ probe

Portuguese police on Thursday arrested the head of the border service and 10 others in a probe into corruption in the granting of so-called “golden visas” to wealthy foreign investors.

The interior and environment ministries were among dozens of locations searched, along with offices linked to the justice ministry and the headquarters of the border police.

“No one is above the law.

The time of impunity is over,” Justice Minister Paula Teixeira Cruz said, calling on those who have tarnished the image of public institutions to resign.

Those arrested included Manuel Jarmela Palos, the head of the frontier police agency SEF, and a senior official in the justice ministry, the Lusa news agency said, quoting several police and governmental sources.

Among other duties, SEF is the agency responsible for border control and the issuing of residence permits to foreign nationals living legally in Portugal.

The prosecutor’s office said there were 60 raids ongoing nationwide and that several arrest warrants had been issued for “corruption, influence peddling, siphoning funds and money laundering”.

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 got 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.

Left-wing political parties said Thursday they planned to question Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas on the golden visas in parliament.