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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Polish government under fire over cash-for-visas scandal

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Poland’s government is facing a major political crisis over allegations that its consulates sold hundreds of thousands of work visas to migrants from Asia and Africa for bribes, weeks before the parliamentary elections.

The scandal, which has been dubbed as “probably the biggest scandal in Poland in the 21st century” by the opposition leader Donald Tusk, could undermine the credibility of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has campaigned on an anti-immigration platform and built a massive wall along the border with Belarus to keep migrants out.

 According to media reports, Polish consular sections issued some 250,000 visas to migrants since 2021 in return for thousands of dollars each, without proper checks and verification. The scheme was reportedly run through intermediary companies and involved several countries in the Middle East, as well as India, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

 The allegations came to light after other EU states noticed an unusually high number of migrants entering with Polish visas. Migrants with these visas are meant to stay and work in Poland. However, they can also travel to other countries within the EU, such as Germany, because Poland is part of the border-free Schengen area.

The Polish authorities have said they are waiting for the results of an investigation by the state Anti-Corruption Office and the prosecutors, who have detained seven people, none of them state officials, on suspicion of corruption in the process of issuing a few hundred temporary work visas.

The deputy foreign minister in charge of consular matters, Piotr Wawrzyk, was sacked last month as the first reports of the scandal appeared in the media. His department was also raided by the anti-corruption agency. On Friday, Reuters news agency reported that the Foreign Ministry’s legal department head was also fired.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said he could not disclose the details related to his knowledge about the suspicions of such practices and that he was awaiting the results of the investigation. He added that “according to my knowledge, at least some of the information in the media is untrue”.

The opposition has demanded answers from Duda and the PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is chief policy maker. They also sought explanations from Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the foreign and interior ministers.

The scandal could have serious implications for the upcoming elections on October 15, where PiS hopes to win an unprecedented third term in power. Opinion polls suggest the party will win most votes, but probably not enough to govern single-handedly or with its current allies.

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