The Government holds no records on commission fees paid by charities and companies in return for money they received under the €1.17 billion “golden visa” scheme for wealthy immigrants, the Department of Justice has said.
The Immigrant Investor Programme, dominated by Chinese applicants, opens residency in the State to non-Europeans with “at least €2 million” in personal wealth. They are in return required to invest €1 million in an Irish business or to make a €500,000 philanthropic donation or a €400,000 donation in certain cases.
The future of the scheme is under discussion in the Government after the Department of Justice called last year for the approval of new projects to be suspended.
People who work with IIP participants say the payment of large commission fees to private brokers in return for investments and endowments is routine in many cases.
“You’ve seen fees of 20 per cent to 25 per cent,” said one Irish adviser who has worked on several multi-million-euro IIP projects.
Citing surging applications from China, the adviser said brokers there who previously charged between 10 per cent and 15 per cent to commission IIP deals have “pushed” the standard rate up to 20 per cent.
But such payments are unregulated, even though they have emerged as a frequent feature of a scheme that is otherwise subject to intrusive supervision by justice officials.
Trinity College Dublin, which received €14.8 million from 37 IIP donors between 2017 and early 2022, declined on Wednesday to say whether it paid any commissions and would not answer further questions on the matter.
By contrast housing charity the Peter McVerry Trust, which has received €4 million under the IIP, did reply to questions. The trust never paid brokers for the money, it said.
“Peter McVerry Trust have not paid any commissions or fees on endowments received through the IIP. We also do not pay legal fees on the transactions – that work is pro-bono.”
The push by justice officials to suspend approvals came amid an escalation in submissions from people from China, the main source of the money flowing into Irish companies and charities. All but 41 of the 1,316 applications to join the IIP in 2022 were from China.
Social housing charity iCare told The Irish Times last week that it has raised €40 million from IIP endowments and pays a 20 per cent commission on average to secure such money via brokers in China.
That disclosure prompted questions as whether such payments were regulated by the department, which oversees the IIP and carries out extensive background checks to vet applications.
Asked whether prospective IIP beneficiaries were required to seek official approval for commissions, the department said it had “no involvement” in fees or commissions.
“The department holds no records of fees paid to brokers or investor agents,” it said in reply to questions.
“Potential beneficiaries of an IIP investment are not required to provide information in relation to any fees paid to investor agents. The payment of any fees is solely a matter for the project promoter and the investor’s agent.”
The department went on to say that professional fees – for solicitors, engineers or project managers – can be included in the project cost.
The Charities Regulator said there were “no specific regulations” in the 2009 law governing its work that relate to the payment of commission fees for donations or endowments .
“The Charities Regulator’s remit does not include oversight of fundraising or third party fundraisers, nor does it extend to schemes such as the Immigrant Investor Programme administered by the Department of Justice.”