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29th March, 2018

Residency permits also granted to suspected criminals



A wanted international criminal and a suspicious figure suspected of money laundering for the Assad regime, and their families, may have settled in Hungary as they have been granted residency permits through the government’s preferential residency bond scheme, the websites 444 and Direkt36 reported on Wednesday, citing information they received in an envelope from an anonymous sender more than two months ago.

The envelope contained a list of those nationals who have received a residency permit from the government under its preferential residency bond programme.

After being able to verify several names on the list from several sources, 444 and Direkt36 decided to only publish the names of those whose identification could be of public interest, 444 and Direkt36 said.

One of those is Salmo Bazkka, a Syrian man, whom the Italian authorities suspect of being a member of an international money laundering ring.

Another such person is Atiya Khoury, whom the US Treasury Department put on a sanction list for assisting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2016, 444 and Direkt36 said. Khoury was instrumental in the financial transfers of the isolated Assad regime and may have helped it with obtaining fuel from the Islamic State, they added.

“It is not known when the two men bought the residency bonds – before the respective accusations or after those. Sources familiar with the Hungarian authorities’ administrative procedure said, however, that the screening of the bond buyers was superficial, in large part because of the high number of people that had to be checked,” the websites said.

The website 444 learnt that Bazkka, who had opened a money-changing kiosk near Blaha Lujza ter last autumn, and his two sons in their twenties were arrested last November. Hungarian police did not confirm that. Bazkka is in the custody of the Italian authorities at present, the websites said.

Direkt36 and 444 contacted Khoury via multiple channels before publishing its article, but they did not receive any response.

The Immigration and Refugee Affairs Office said the procedures for applying for residency bonds were in order: only 20 out of the 20,000 applicants were rejected because of national security or public safety concerns, 444 wrote. The Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, run by Antal Rogan, did not respond.

Prime Minister’s Office head Janos Lazar reiterated Wednesday at a press conference that the four authorities involved in the residency bond-related screenings did vet every residency bond owner.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, without mentioning the news article, that the claims are pure fabrication and nothing else but a means to stoke pre-election public sentiment. (direkt36.hu; index.hu; 444.hu; hvg.hu)


Sources regularly consulted, with abbreviations used in text: Népszabadság (N); Magyar Hírlap (MH); Világgazdaság (VG); Napi Gazdaság (NG); Magyar Nemzet (MN); Népszava (Nsz); Kossuth Rádió news (KR); nightly TV news (TV).

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