16 September 2023

Poland’s conservative government rocked by visa corruption scandal

16 September 2023

Poland’s conservative government has been rocked by reports that consulates issued visas in Africa and Asia in exchange for bribes, opening the door for migrants to enter the European Union.

Details about the corruption scandal are coming to light a month ahead of the country’s national election on October 15, leaving the Law and Justice struggling to control the damage.

A former deputy foreign minister who was dismissed amid reports of his involvement in the scandal was admitted to hospital after an apparent suicide attempt.

Law and Justice has been the election frontrunner in a field of several parties and it is not clear if the affair will dent its support.

This is the biggest scandal we have faced in the 21st century

But opposition politicians have seized on the issue, accusing the government of corruption and hypocrisy, given its strong anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Critics say the governing party raised the spectre of immigration to frighten Poles and then offered promises of keeping them secure, while a corrupt cell operating within the diplomatic corps opened a channel for migrants to enter the EU.

“This is the biggest scandal we have faced in the 21st century. Corruption at the highest levels of government, bringing a direct threat to all of us. And it’s because of people whose mouths are full of phrases about security,” Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, an opposition politician, said in a televised address to the nation on Friday evening.

Poland has opened its door to Ukrainian refugees, who are primarily white and Christian, but governing party officials have long made clear that they consider Muslims and others from different religions or ethnicities to be a threat to the nation’s cultural identity and security.

Media reports allege Poland’s consular sections issued about 250,000 visas to migrants from Asia and Africa since 2021 in return for bribes of several thousand dollars each.

Poland is a member of the EU’s visa-free zone known as Schengen and once those migrants arrived in Poland they could cross Europe’s borders freely.

Szymon Holownia, who leads a centre-right opposition party, said the governing party “jeopardised the safety of millions of Poles by conducting the disgusting, commercial practice of selling visas”.

Government officials acknowledge some wrongdoing occurred.

The Foreign Ministry announced on Friday it had dismissed an official “in connection with the ongoing findings regarding irregularities in the visa issuance process”.

It said the official was Jakub Osajda, the director of the ministry’s office of legal and compliance management. It also announced an extraordinary audit of its consular department and all consular posts.

That followed the August 31 dismissal of Piotr Wawrzyk, the deputy foreign minister in charge of consular matters, as the first reports of the scandal appeared in the media.

Mr Wawrzyk was admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt, Polish media reported on Friday.

The state prosecutor’s office said on Thursday it has charged seven people suspected of corrupt activities in accelerating visa procedures, with three of them under temporary arrest.

The prosecutor general, Zbigniew Ziobro, said authorities were working to bring the wrongdoers to justice and insisted the scale of the affair was smaller than what the media and opposition claim, with just 268 visas given out in the scheme.

He said Mr Wawrzyk had written a farewell letter saying he wanted to die because he could not bear the hatred against him in the media. “He feels like a man hounded by this hate, because he feels like an honest man,” Mr Ziobro said.

Mr Wawrzyk had been responsible for preparing a regulation making it easier for foreign workers from countries including Iran, Pakistan and United Arab Emirates to enter Poland.

Law and Justice ran on a strong anti-migrant message when it won power in 2015, a crisis year for Europe when more than a million refugees and migrants fled from Syria and elsewhere.

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said then that migrants brought diseases to Europe, as well as “parasites and protozoa” — remarks that were heavily criticized.

The party has refused to accept any of the migrants and refugees who have arrived in the EU in rceent years. It also built a tall steel wall on its border with Belarus to keep migrants out after large numbers began arriving there in 2021.

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