The Associated Press August 10, 2010, 2:42PM ET

Montenegro offers citizenship for big investors

Montenegro will offer citizenship to people who invest more than euro500,000 ($662,650) in the tiny Balkan country, the government said Tuesday.

The "economic citizenship program" is designed to attract businessmen to move their companies to Montenegro, which has a population of 600,000, the government said on an official website.

The government said the move underscores Montenegro's openness to foreign investment.

But opponents criticized the government idea. Opposition leader Nebojsa Medojevic alleged it would "only attract tycoons and corrupt politicians on the run" and undermine Montenegro's credibility abroad.

Montenegro already has granted citizenship to former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled corruption charges at home and who has promised to invest in Montenegrin tourism. The government has argued that there has been no international arrest warrant for Thaksin.

Montenegro became independent in 2006 after splitting from Serbia, and is now seeking membership in the European Union. Last year, it was among the Balkan countries whose citizens were granted visa-free travel to the 27 EU nations.

Montenegro saw a major surge in foreign investment -- mostly from Russia -- immediately after the independence, but this has recently slowed due to the global economic crisis.

The government said that only businessmen with "indisputable and credible biography and financial means" can apply. It said that "all applicants will be checked according to most strict international standards" and in consultation with international advisers.

The government said part of the euro500,000 investment would go into the state budget and the rest would have to be used by the investor to start a business in Montenegro.

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