António Figueiredo – former chairman of the Institute of Registries and Notaries (IRN) and one of several high-ranking defendants in the criminal case that grew out of Portugal’s “Operation Labyrinth”, the investigation into alleged corruption surrounding the country’s Golden Visa program – told the court there had been “no criminal intent” on his part and that he “was only trying to help Chinese friends”, writes the Portuguese newspaper Expresso.
Figueiredo stands accused of passive corruption for unlawful acts, improper receipt of advantage, influence-peddling, and prevarication, and is the first defendant to appear in court in the trial that also implicates the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice, the former Director-General of the Foreigners & Borders Service (the bureau responsible for processing golden visa applications, which reportedly has a backlog of some 4,000 cases), Chinese businessman Zhu Xiaodong, as well as Portugal’s Minister of Internal Affairs, who resigned following the publication of the investigation and was later arrested.
The former IRN chairman told the court his friendship with Mr. Zhu dated back to 2007, when they had first met when a Chinese delegation of investors visited the IRN. Later, Figueiredo explained, Zhu had introduced him to another Chinese investor who had also become part of his circle of friends, and the three had traveled together to the Douro and to Porto de Mós.
Specifically, the accusations relate to officials using their influence to fast-track certain Golden Visa applications in exchange for bribes and favors.
Questioned by the judge as to whether it was normal for a person in his position to intercede on behalf of Chinese friends when they already had lawyers representing them, Mr. Figueiredo denied all allegations against him, insisting that he had not received any compensation nor used his services to grant undue favors, but that he had merely assisted his Chinese friends outside of office hours because they had “difficulties with the language and with the bureaucracy”.
Portugal’s Golden Visa program, which recently ranked first among residence by investment programs worldwide, was briefly suspended following the investigation in 2015 but reopened just weeks later. Europe’s most popular residence by investment option, Portugal’s Golden Visa program has raised some €3.2 billion since the start in 2013, mostly from China.
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