Buy your way into Montenegro for half a million euros

BELGRADE Tue Aug 10, 2010 4:49pm BST

A bridge built in 1853 is seen in the town of Rijeka Crnojevica, Montenegro, April 4, 2008. REUTERS/Ivan Milutinovic

A bridge built in 1853 is seen in the town of Rijeka Crnojevica, Montenegro, April 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Ivan Milutinovic

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Invest 500,000 euros ($657,500) in Montenegro and the European Union candidate says it will welcome you as a citizen.

"Clearly established criteria on the part of the Montenegrin government will assure legal security in the acquisition of Montenegrin citizenship," the government said in a August 9 statement on its website.

"All applicants will be verified according to the strictest international standards," the statement said.

Montenegro said in March that it had granted citizenship to Thailand's ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- sentenced to jail in absentia in his home country for graft.

A number of countries offer economic citizenships for varying prices. Caribbean island country Dominica advertises citizenship on its website for $75,000 in investments.

The least populated country in the Balkans, with about 670,000 citizens, Montenegro's economy has suffered a tough recession since the world economic crisis hit in 2008. Luring foreign investment is a top government priority.

"The realization of this program will additionally attract well-known foreign investors, individuals and capital to Montenegro, which will contribute to the positive image of Montenegro on the world economic map," the website said.

Although Montenegro is still years away from EU membership, citizenship will one day allow full EU benefits and already Montenegrins travel visa-free in most EU countries.

"I see it as highly questionable that it should be enough to invest an amount of 500,000 euros in a country to get its citizenship," Stephan Mayer, a German member of parliament and spokesman for home affairs and legal policy for coalition partner Christian Social Union (CSU), told Reuters.

"Everyone who is willing to pay this amount can now travel to Germany and other EU countries without a visa, as long as he hasn't been convicted of a crime there previously," he said.

(Reporting by Adam Tanner; Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt in Berlin; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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