Police want to charge four over residency permit scam

The Security Police (DP) submitted to the Riga Regional Prosecutor's Office a request last week for charges to be pressed against four persons, including two officials of the Office for Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP), in connection with violations committed in extending residency permits, reported LETA Friday.

According to the DP, a criminal investigation was launched last summer, revealing that two PMLP officials had avoided going through normal procedures in extending a residency permit for a third-country citizen.

These activities were organized by a Latvian citizen, who operated as a go-between and bribed the two officials in question. Furthermore, the go-between also forged the documents which were then submitted to the PMLP.

One of the agency officials is suspected of bribe-taking and forgery, while the other is suspected of forgery.

The amount of the bribe has not been revealed.

This is not the only corruption scandal involving the PMLP.

This past November, the DP opened a criminal case against several officials suspected of bribery, including a high-ranking official from the PMLP.

The move comes as opaque lobbying picks up asking for Latvia's residency-for-cash scheme to be loosened, just  year after the regime was tightened in response to several cases bringing it into disrepute.

Holders of Latvian residency permits under the scheme included disgraced Kyrgyz banker Mukhtar Ablyazov and ultra-nationalist Russian singer Oleg Gazmanov, who was subsequently banned from Latvia.

Supporters of performing a policy U-turn and reintroducing the residency-for-cash scheme claim it brings extra cash into the economy, mainly in the real estate sector.

Opponents say it keeps property prices inflated, making housing unaffordable for locals and that many of those holding residency have little interest in Latvia, let alone a desire to reside here.

With sanctions and travel bans taking a toll on the Russian elite, there is also the possibility that a revised scheme might offer a way to circumvent sanctions for high-net-worth individuals.

Speaking at a conference on the subject Monday, Economics Ministry spokesman Artins Lazdovskis said that the average monthly number of applications for residence permits had declined from 200 to 30 since September 1, 2014, when stricter requirements were introduced for the investors seeking Latvian residence permits. 

"Reviving the program would provide a positive impetus for the Latvian economy,” Lazdovskis said, adding that the Economics Ministry did not have any information suggesting that the program entailed security risks for Latvia.

MP Janis Dombrava of the National Alliance pointed out that the Security Police had identified the scheme as a threat to national security.

"They do not make such statements lightly," Dombrava said.

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