03/02/2023, 09.15
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The stellar accounts of the Uzbek visa

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Simplified procedure with disbursements of at least one million dollars. Risk of the country becoming a big money-laundering machine. Russian oligarchs in the front row. The EU is not immune to the practice of visas in exchange for investments. In Turkey, citizenship for 5,000 and the opening of bank accounts.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The authorities of Uzbekistan have decided to grant permanent residence visas and citizenship to foreigners in exchange for significant investments, a widespread practice in many countries.

Uzbek citizenship will be given under a simplified procedure to individuals who conclude financial deals in the country, putting money into projects worth the equivalent of at least one million dollars. Renowned scholars, sportsmen and women, and cultural and art workers will also be given priority.

These amendments to the law 'On the Citizenship of the Republic of Uzbekistan' have been put up for public discussion in society, and many observers believe they could turn the country into a major money laundering machine, with even the danger of ending up under secondary sanctions.

The amendments do not clarify which 'one million projects' secure citizenship, and what parameters they must meet. This is an extension of concessions that have been in place since 2019, when it was intended to attract foreign companies with strong investment incentives, including family members with the issuance of 'financial visas'.

Already since then, foreigners investing from million upwards are granted visas in a very short time.

There is also the possibility of obtaining a permanent permit for citizens of specific countries by purchasing real estate in Uzbekistan, which thus becomes one of the most attractive countries for money laundering.

The desire is obviously to find every way to support the strong development of Uzbek society by reducing the state's debt, increasing jobs and the number of qualified specialists.

A former Uzbek diplomat and journalist now living in Switzerland, Alisher Taksanov, is one of the most insistent in pointing out the risk of criminal drift in state finances. He observes that 'according to statistics, in recent times the increase in Uzbekistan's financial trade and exchanges mainly concerns Russia; the authorities in Tashkent are asking the EU to lift the sanctions on Usmanov, Putin's Uzbek oligarch, and at this very moment they want to give citizenship to the big investors... these do not seem to me to be coincidences of chance'.

In practice 'they want to turn Uzbekistan into an offshore paradise, to clean up Russian capital, that of the sanctioned oligarchs', according to Taksanov: 'Mirziyoyev is playing with fire, to defend his friend Putin'. Tashkent has always attracted foreigners because of its mild climate, low property prices and similarly low taxes, at 12% as in Russia.

The other Central Asian countries have not yet introduced such favourable practices for foreigners, particularly Russians; at best, they are stuck with visas for money, and Uzbekistan is becoming the de facto regional leader in the citizenship trade. In Kazakhstan, 'shortened' citizenship is reserved only for native Kazakhs from other countries.

Citizenship in exchange for investment is a widespread practice in the world: over the last decade, more than 27 billion dollars have been allocated for this purpose in the EU member states, especially in Greece, Malta, Bulgaria and Portugal, despite a certain amount of opposition from European leaders. The suspicion of money laundering manoeuvres to hide corruption and escape taxation in their home countries remains strong.

One of the countries most willing to welcome foreign investments today is Turkey, to which Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are pouring in. Here too, the authorities in Ankara are making the procedures for obtaining visas easier in exchange for funds, granting citizenship for 5,000 and opening bank accounts. The Turkish opposition complains that 'even terrorists can become our fellow citizens', which in some cases already seems to be the case in Uzbekistan.

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