Budapest, Hungary—Russian businessmen have been paying hundreds of thousands of euros to buy visas from the Hungarian government.

Starting in 2013, the Hungarian government distributed visas in exchange for the purchase of government bonds worth from $290,000 to $300,000. Although the EU successfully ceased the operation, more than 20,000 individuals took the opportunity and purchased a golden visa.

Most of the buyers were from Russia, China, and Arab countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE. Interestingly, a considerable amount of them had first applied for visas through the regular channels but were deemed unqualified due to organized crime, human rights, and terrorism suspicions in their native countries.

If a foreign national manages to acquire a visa or residence permit from a country of the European Union, then it is eligible to travel unhindered within the entire Schengen Area.

According to the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of the buyers was Dmitry Pavlov, patron of Russian army and intelligence services veterans and a past leader of the Moscow mafia “Izmaylovskaya.” Another buyer was Alexei Yankevich, president of Gazprom Neft, Russia’s third largest producer of crude oil.

Relatives of Sergei Naryshkin, the Russian foreign intelligence spymaster, are also among those who have purchased golden visas. Naryshkin has been targeted by US and EU sanctions and has been banned from entering the EU following the invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea. But because his son purchased a golden visa, Naryshkin was able to enter the EU and travel throughout the Continent.

The program ended after leaks in the media revealed that not only the Hungarian state was not benefiting financially from the scheme, but that taxpayer money had to cover much of its operation. Unsurprisingly, this was because people associated with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has had close ties with Moscow, embezzled the golden visa funds. Moreover, they were running a parallel operation: demanding thousands of euros in bribes to allow an individual to even begin the process.

Hungary, however, is not the only EU country with a similar scheme. An astounding 12 states offer similar golden visas in exchange for varying sums. For an investment of between $290,000 and $11 million, individuals can purchase a golden visa from Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal and the UK (each country has a different scheme). The projects are generally known as Residency-by-Investment programs.