Golden Passports

Golden Passports

Golden Passport and Golden Visa programs offer individuals the opportunity to gain residency or citizenship in a country through significant financial investments. While these programs can drive economic growth by attracting foreign direct investment, they also pose substantial risks related to money laundering, fraud, and corruption. Understanding these dual aspects is crucial for governments, investors, and financial institutions.

Economic Benefits and Growth Potential

Golden Visa and Passport programs can significantly contribute to a country’s economic development. By injecting foreign capital into real estate, government bonds, or local businesses, these programs can spur job creation, infrastructure development, and overall economic growth. Countries across the globe have adopted such schemes to attract wealthy investors, offering them the lure of global mobility, tax benefits, and enhanced lifestyle options.

Risks and Vulnerabilities

However, the attractiveness of these programs to legitimate investors is paralleled by their potential for misuse by illicit actors. According to the FATF Report „Misuse of Citizenship and Residency by Investment Programmes,“ these schemes can be exploited for money laundering and to conceal the proceeds of crime. Criminals may use the new identity and banking access provided by these programs to obscure their illicit activities and assets, posing significant challenges to global financial integrity.

Regulatory Responses and Safeguards

In response to these concerns, international and national regulatory bodies have taken steps to mitigate the risks. The 5th AMLD, for instance, explicitly addresses the need for enhanced due diligence for applicants of these programs, recognizing them as high-risk customers. Similarly, Germany’s Geldwäschegesetz (GwG) mandates stringent checks, particularly for third-country nationals seeking residence or citizenship through investment, to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.

Implementing Best Practices

To safeguard the integrity of Golden Passport and Visa programs, the FATF and OECD recommend a series of best practices. These include conducting thorough risk assessments, implementing multi-layered due diligence processes, and ensuring transparency and accountability in the administration of these programs. It is also vital for countries to collaborate internationally, sharing information and best practices to combat the cross-border nature of financial crimes effectively.


The joint FATF-OECD report on the misuse of Citizenship and Residency by Investment (CBI/RBI) programmes provides a comprehensive overview of the benefits and risks associated with these initiatives. It outlines how, while CBI/RBI programmes can drive economic growth and offer individuals legitimate pathways to citizenship or residency, they also present substantial opportunities for abuse by criminals seeking to launder money, conceal their identities, and perpetrate other financial crimes.

Key points include:

  1. Dual Nature of CBI/RBI Programmes: These programmes attract legitimate investors seeking citizenship or residency benefits, but they are also susceptible to exploitation by individuals involved in money laundering, corruption, and other illicit activities.
  2. Comprehensive Risk Analysis: The report emphasizes the need for a thorough examination of the financial crime risks associated with CBI/RBI programmes, including the potential for foreign bribery, fraud, and corruption, and their broader implications for public integrity and regulatory systems.
  3. Vulnerabilities and Exploitation: CBI/RBI programmes are particularly prone to abuse due to their ability to provide global mobility, banking access, and anonymity through new identification documents, which can facilitate large-scale fraud and money laundering.
  4. Opportunities for Criminal Wealth: The programmes offer mechanisms for illicit actors to transfer assets across borders, access new financial systems with less scrutiny, and potentially hinder law enforcement efforts to recover assets.
  5. Complexity and Intermediary Involvement: The involvement of multiple government agencies and private intermediaries, such as property agents and wealth managers, in CBI/RBI programmes creates challenges in coordination, implementation, and regulation, increasing the risk of exploitation.
  6. Governance and Oversight Challenges: Ineffective governance and oversight, unclear roles and responsibilities, and inadequate internal controls can lead to programme vulnerabilities, potentially damaging international relations and business credibility.
  7. Mitigation Measures: The report proposes measures to strengthen programme governance and address risks, including conducting risk analyses, incorporating integrity measures, and ensuring multi-layered due diligence.
  8. Importance of Ongoing Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of programme recipients is crucial to prevent evasion of law enforcement and to support effective risk management and asset recovery efforts.
  9. Addressing Fraud Risks: Jurisdictions must be vigilant about controlling the flow of funds to prevent fraud, including setting up escrow accounts for property development and guarding against recycling of funds among applicants.
  10. Role of Professional Enablers and Intermediaries: The report highlights the need for clear delineation of roles and responsibilities among all parties involved in CBI/RBI programmes to prevent exploitation and ensure programme integrity.
  11. Risk-Sensitive Programme Design: While CBI/RBI programmes can offer theoretical benefits, their practical implementation must prioritize risk-sensitive design and administration, including the implementation of recommended safeguards to mitigate the risks of money laundering, fraud, and misuse.

5th AMLD

The 5th AMLD (Directive (EU) 2018/843) addresses concerns related to „golden passports.“ Golden passports refer to the practice where individuals, typically from non-EU countries, can obtain residence rights or citizenship in an EU Member State through financial investments such as capital transfers, real estate purchases, government bonds, or investments in local businesses.

The amendment highlights the need to consider these individuals as higher risk for money laundering activities. By explicitly including this category of individuals in Annex III, the directive mandates enhanced due diligence procedures for financial institutions and other obligated entities when dealing with third-country nationals who acquire residence or citizenship through significant financial investments. This is aimed at preventing the misuse of these investment schemes for money laundering or terrorist financing purposes.

German GwG

The German GwG, or German Anti-Money Laundering Act, particularly focus on the enhanced due diligence requirements that are part of the broader regulatory framework aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist financing. These sections are particularly relevant in the context of „golden passports,“ which involve the acquisition of residence rights or citizenship in a country through significant financial investments.

Section 15 (1) of the German GwG establishes that enhanced due diligence requirements are in addition to the general due diligence obligations, implying a layered approach to due diligence where certain situations or risk factors necessitate additional measures.

Section 15 (2) of the German GwG outlines the circumstances under which obliged entities, such as financial institutions, are required to apply enhanced due diligence. This includes situations identified through risk analysis or by considering specific risk factors, which may indicate a higher risk of money laundering or terrorist financing. The section emphasizes the need for obliged entities to tailor the extent of these measures to the level of risk identified and to demonstrate the adequacy of these measures in line with section 10(2).

Section 15 (4) of the German GwG specifies the minimum requirements for enhanced due diligence in high-risk scenarios, including obtaining senior management approval for establishing or continuing business relationships, verifying the source of funds, and conducting enhanced ongoing monitoring of the business relationship. Additionally, it addresses situations involving politically exposed persons (PEPs), requiring continued senior management approval and risk-adequate measures for a period even after a PEP has left their public function.

Annex 2 highlights specific customer risk factors indicative of potentially higher risks under section 15, including the case where a customer is a third-country national seeking residence or citizenship through financial investments in the Member State. This directly relates to the „golden passport“ schemes, marking them as potential risk factors for money laundering or terrorist financing.

In summary, these sections of the German GwG underscore the need for increased scrutiny and due diligence by obliged entities in situations that present a higher risk of financial crimes, such as through „golden passport“ schemes. They mandate a proactive, risk-based approach to due diligence, particularly when dealing with third-country nationals investing in the country for citizenship or residence rights, to mitigate the risks associated with money laundering and terrorist financing.