A Syrian man known to have assisted President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was allegedly given a golden visa linked to Hungary’s now-defunct Residency Bond Program. The recipient, Atiya Khoury, is currently under sanctions by the US Treasury Department for aiding the Assad regime’s fuel procurement process.
According to the US Treasury, Khoury used a shell company called Moneta Transfer & Exchange to move money between Syria, Lebanon, and Russia on behalf of the Syrian government. Khoury made payments for fuel through the company and received a commission in exchange.
The director general of the immigration office told Marta Demeter, a Hungarian MP for the LMP Party, that Khoury purchased government bonds in 2014 and was then granted the visa. He successfully applied for permanent residency in 2016 without raising any red flags in security checks.
The immigration authorities denied Demeter direct access to Khoury’s documents despite her right as an MP to view such information. She commented further:
“To my question about whether or not the Hungarian authorities would revoke Khoury’s residence permit in light of the new information, the director said ‘no’. She said she thinks its still not enough reason for the Hungarian authorities to do this”.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose campaign has been pushing a firm anti-immigration platform, claimed that the entire story was fabricated to sway public opinion before the election date. When asked for comment by Euronews, the government maintained that it “does not wish to concern itself with election scams.”
Beginning in 2013, the Hungarian Residency Bond Program granted 6,585 foreign nationals permanent residence permits, along with their 13,300 family members. The program was suspended indefinitely in 2017 after being a focal point of the country’s immigration debate. The golden visa was ultimately unsuccessful at bringing any economic benefit to the country due to higher-than-market-average interest paid on the bonds.