The European Commission has sent a letter to Poland asking for “clarifications,” amid reports that Polish officials have been involved in an alleged cash-for-visas scandal.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Polish consulates have been accused of participating in a widespread illegal scheme through which migrants from Africa and Asia were issued Polish visas in exchange for large sums of money.
As Poland is a member of the passport-free Schengen area, visas issued by the country grant holders free access to the 27 European Union member states, as well as Switzerland and Iceland.
The allegations could further exacerbate European tensions over grain supplies, which have led to Poland saying it will no longer send arms to Ukraine, and Kyiv filing lawsuits against three EU member states, including Poland.
Brussels is “following the recent media reporting about these alleged cases of fraud and corruption very closely,” according to the European Commission’s spokesperson Anitta Hipper.
“These allegations are very concerning and give rise to questions regarding the compliance with EU law,” Hipper said in a Wednesday statement. “This is why Commissioner (Ylva) Johansson wrote a letter to the Polish authorities to ask for clarifications.”
Johansson sent a memo posing a “set of detailed questions,” and asked the Polish authorities to reply by October 3, Hipper said.
“So, we count on the Polish authorities to provide the necessary information to the Commission and to investigate these allegations,” Hipper added.
The Polish Foreign Ministry refuted allegations the ministry “has imported hundreds of thousands of migrants from Muslim countries and Africa.”
“It is not true,” the ministry said in a statement on September 15. Claims that Poland is the EU leader issuing entry permits to the Schengen zone are also not true, the ministry added.
But Polish prosecutors announced they had brought charges against seven individuals in a visa-issuing scandal that resulted in the firing of the deputy foreign minister, according to state news agency PAP.
“The investigation was initiated on March 7 based on information provided by the Central Anticorruption Bureau,” Daniel Lerman, deputy director of the National Prosecutor’s Office Department of Organized Crime and Corruption, said at a news conference on September 14, PAP reported.
“It concerns paid protection in the acceleration of visa procedures in relation to several hundred visas,” he said, adding that most of the visas were refused.
Those visa applications related to foreigners who applied for visas at Polish diplomatic missions in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, Singapore and the Philippines, PAP said.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said 1,951,000 national and Schengen visas were issued in the last 30 months.
Of that figure, Ukrainian nationals accounted for 990,000, Belarusian nationals accounted for 586,000, and other nationalities comprised 374,000 of the visas issued. The ministry said the number of visas distributed to Russian citizens “has decreased significantly in recent years.
It repeatedly dismissed “false” allegations that consuls received orders from the ministry regarding visa issuance, adding that decisions on those applications are made independently.
“Representatives of the management of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do not have the authority to instruct consuls to issue a specific visa decision,” the ministry said.
“It is not true that Poland outsourced all technical support for processing visa applications to an external company and that visa brokerage companies acted as consular officers,” the ministry added.
The ministry said visa applications are submitted by candidates directly at the consular office, or at the visa application acceptance point.