Greece speeds up ‘Golden Visa’ scheme for Chinese investors

A woman looks at buildings from a hill on November 1, 2019, in Athens as the golden visa arrangement grants non-EU citizens a five-year residence permit in return for investing at least 250,000 euros ($275,000) in Greek real estate. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 November 2019

Greece speeds up ‘Golden Visa’ scheme for Chinese investors

  • Greece is not the only European country to operate such a scheme
  • Experts say the Chinese no longer regard Greece merely as a foot in the door to the EU’s free-travel Schengen zone

ATHENS: Chinese investor Jiang Rungong, who moved to Greece three years ago, says he and his family could not be happier in their new home on the Athens coast.

“We chose Greece because of its cultural heritage, its history, the democracy, the freedom. We really like its atmosphere,” Jiang says.

“Since we got the visa, we’ve traveled to many European countries. And every time we come back to Greece, the moment we set foot in the airport, we feel like it’s home.”

The 52-year-old from Shanghai, his wife and son took advantage of Greece’s so-called Golden Visa scheme to come and live in Europe.

His 18-year-old son, Jiang Semniao, managed to learn Greek in just two years. He is attending a Greek public school and dreams of becoming a Greek citizen.

Under the arrangement, non-EU citizens are given a five-year residence permit in return for investing at least 250,000 euros ($275,000) in Greek real estate.

Greece is not the only European country to operate such a scheme.

Other crisis-hit EU members such as Portugal, Cyprus and Spain have been offering similar incentives for years.

Following Greece’s decade-long recession, real estate prices remained at rock bottom for a long time, even if they have since started to rise again recently.

So far the program seems to be working: the number of residence permits issued to non-EU citizens was up by 46 percent last year.
And some 5,300 permits have been issued since the scheme’s launch in 2013, more than 3,400 to Chinese buyers, official data show.

China and Greece have been building progressively closer trade and investment ties for more than a decade, ever since two main container terminals at the port of Piraeus were sold to Chinese shipping giant Cosco in 2008.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has just returned from a four-day visit to Shanghai, and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Athens for a reciprocal three-day trip on Sunday.

Experts say the Chinese no longer regard Greece merely as a foot in the door to the EU’s free-travel Schengen zone, but actually enjoy life in their new home.

“They like to stay in Athens and the suburbs, forming little Chinatowns. They are buying blocks of flats, where all the owners are Chinese,” said Anny Avgouli, migration policy manager for a law firm, Dedes, that has a special department for golden visas specifically for Chinese customers.

But for some, the long wait time can be off-putting.

“When you tell a client that a year might be needed just to submit the request... it is like you are showing him the exit,” says Dedes law investment manager Dorina Cobzaru.

Applications are also being held up because they are processed in the same department that handles the asylum requests of tens of thousands of migrants.

And already, a huge backlog has built up.

To cut red tape and make investment easier, the newly elected conservative government approved a bill in late October that would allow would-be investors to get round China’s strict capital controls.

This is done by using multiple bank terminal transactions to transfer the requisite sum of $250,000.

Greek development minister Adonis Georgiadis, who recently visited China, said the Bank of Greece had concluded that “the use of bank terminals does not violate Greek or European law. If it is violating the Chinese law, this is a matter for China.”

Closer to home, however, Brussels is worried about such golden visa schemes.

In a report earlier this year, the European Commission singled out Cyprus, Bulgaria and Malta, complaining that wealthy candidates for residency or citizenship do not face adequate security and background checks.

Nevertheless, Greece is desperately seeking to attract foreign investors and says it cannot afford to lose the valuable income.

According to the Bank of Greece, the scheme appears to be stimulating the country’s previously sluggish housing market.

The central bank estimates it attracted 469 million euros in Chinese capital in 2018 and as much as 443 million euros in the first half of this year alone, compared with only 77 million euros in 2017.

And Chinese investors have plowed more than one billion euros in total into Greek property since the program was launched, the data showed.

Real estate is just one aspect of the closer cooperation between Athens and Beijing since Greece’s economic crisis, which saw it lose around a quarter of its gross domestic product.

Cosco acquired Piraeus’ two main container terminals for 35 years. And in 2016, it also took over the Piraeus port authority — and the third remaining container terminal — until 2052.

Greece has also signed up to China’s new “Belt and Road” project, a $1 trillion global investment program aiming to forward Chinese goods to markets further afield.

Pelosi pursues articles of impeachment against Trump, says democracy at stake

Updated 06 December 2019

Pelosi pursues articles of impeachment against Trump, says democracy at stake

  • House panel could approve impeachment charges by Dec. 12
  • Trump assails “Do Nothing” Democrats, vows: “We will win!“

WASHINGTON: Warning that US democracy is at stake, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed a congressional committee on Thursday to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, a historic step setting up a fight over whether to oust him from office.
In a dramatic televised statement, Pelosi accused the Republican president of abusing his power and alluded to Britain’s King George III, the monarch against whom the American colonies rebelled in forming the United States in 1776, saying that in the United States, “the people are the king.”
“Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections,” said Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress.
At the heart of the Democratic-led House’s impeachment inquiry is Trump’s request that Ukraine launch an investigation targeting Joe Biden. The former vice president is a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and our heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi said. She had opened the investigation in September.
She was referring to Jerrold Nadler, whose House Judiciary Committee has the responsibility of drawing up the formal charges that would later be voted on by the full House.
Two people knowledgeable about the process said the panel could draft and recommend the articles of impeachment to the House as early as Dec. 12. Democrats said lawmakers would work through the weekend to get them written.
The charges could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

Senate trial
If articles of impeachment are passed as expected, that would lead to a trial in the Senate. Republicans, who control the Senate, have shown little support for convicting and removing him.
Pelosi was asked what it would take for Republicans to support impeachment as she took questions at a Town Hall on CNN on Thursday night. “I can’t answer for the Republicans, they’ve taken an oath to Donald Trump,” she answered.
Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, wrote on Twitter: “The Do Nothing, Radical Left Democrats have just announced that they are going to seek to Impeach me over NOTHING.”
“The good thing is that the Republicans have NEVER been more united. We will win!” Trump said.
Pelosi’s announcement clearly signaled that she believes Democrats have the votes in the 435-seat House to impeach. She acted after receiving overwhelming support in a party meeting on Wednesday night, a source familiar with the meeting said.
The impeachment drama is unfolding at a time of deep partisan divisions across the United States that have widened during Trump’s tumultuous presidency.
The inquiry’s focus is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.
Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.

Security aid
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine — a vulnerable US ally facing Russian aggression — as leverage to pressure Kiev into conducting investigations politically beneficial to Trump.
Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election. They have described Trump’s actions as aimed at weeding out corruption in Ukraine, not getting political dirt on Biden.
They also argue the inquiry has failed to produce first-hand evidence showing Trump made US aid to Ukraine or a White House meeting for its president contingent on Kiev pursuing the investigations.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which three constitutional law experts called by Democratic lawmakers said Trump had committed impeachable offenses. A fourth expert called by Republicans called the inquiry slipshod and rushed.
Nadler has given Trump until 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Friday to say whether he or his legal counsel will participate in upcoming proceedings by calling witnesses, introducing evidence and making a presentation. Nadler has given committee Republicans the same deadline to request witnesses.
Judiciary Democrats said the report by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller documenting Russian interference in the 2016 election could be part of testimony they hear on Monday from a committee lawyer, who is presenting evidence along with a Democratic lawyer from the House Intelligence Committee. Republican committee lawyers are also expected to testify.
Including material from Mueller’s report in an article of impeachment would demonstrate a pattern of behavior involving foreign interference in US elections, House Judiciary Democrat Pramila Jayapal said.
“What we have to think about is what gives us the strongest trial in the Senate,” she told reporters.
The US Constitution empowers the House to impeach a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
No US president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Republican Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House began the process in the Watergate corruption scandal.
Two other presidents were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
In 1998, a Republican-led House passed articles of impeachment against Democratic President Bill Clinton, charges arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern. The other president impeached by the House but left in office by the Senate was Andrew Johnson in 1868, three years after the US Civil War.
Asked if he worried that impeachment would tarnish his legacy, Trump told reporters at the White House: “No, not at all, not at all. It’s a hoax, it’s a big fat hoax.”