Polish diplomats say they were pressured to issue visas to Indians under former government

The foreign ministry pressured Polish consulates to issue visas to Indian citizens during the rule of the former Law and Justice (PiS) party, two diplomats have told a parliamentary commission investigating alleged corruption in the visa system under the previous government.

They said that the applicants claimed to be Bollywood filmmakers but had no apparent knowledge of or experience in the industry. Some reportedly used the visas to help them gain entry to the United States.

Meanwhile, an associate of a former deputy foreign minister accused of involvement in the corruption reportedly confessed during a closed part of his testimony to taking bribes in exchange for helping organise visas. The deputy minister himself refused to testify when called by the commission.

Afera wizowa z czasów rządu PiS to nie tylko korupcja przy wydawaniu wiz. Oto jak funkcjonował „system Wawrzyka” ➡️ https://t.co/YlLBb4DHjd pic.twitter.com/n2WcOvQVlu

— Onet Wiadomości (@OnetWiadomosci) February 28, 2024

Claims that applicants for Polish visas, which also provide access to the European Schengen Zone, could make payments to effectively skip the queue caused a major scandal when they emerged last year during the campaign for October’s parliamentary elections.

The then opposition, led by Donald Tusk, said that the scandal highlighted the hypocrisy of the ruling national-conservative PiS party, which publicly declared itself to be opposed to illegal immigration but was allowing migrants to illegally obtain visas.

After a coalition of parties led by Tusk won a majority in the elections, they formed a special parliamentary commission to investigate the issue. Two of the figures called to appear before it this week were the former Polish consul in Mumbai Damian Irzyk and his deputy, Mateusz Reszczyk.

Seven people have been charged in relation to alleged corruption in the issuing of Polish visas to foreign nationals

The scandal has engulfed the government since last week, but officials say the opposition is exaggerating the scale and nature of the case https://t.co/iHnIShb1pQ

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 15, 2023

“The visa scandal portrayed by the media is only a small piece of a much larger migration scandal,” Reszczyk told the committee yesterday, quoted by news website Onet.

In their testimony, he and Irzyk described how the foreign ministry and Edgar Kobos – an associate of deputy foreign minister Piotr Wawrzyk who was not formally employed by the ministry – exerted pressure on consulates to grant visas to persons designated by the authorities.

In November 2022, said Irzyk, the Mumbai consulate received an urgent request from the ministry to issue multiple-entry Schengen visas for a group of 35 Indians who were presented as “Bollywood filmmakers” and were scheduled to fly to Poland on 10 December. A parallel request for 13 visas was made to the consulate in Delhi.

Reszczyk told the commission that he found such an order unprecedented, as consuls are completely independent in granting visas. He added that the diplomats in Mumbai had reservations about most visa applicants from the start, but under pressure from the ministry, including from Kobos, they ended up issuing visas.

The best part of the unfolding cash-for-visas scandal inside Poland’s govt: Polish (= EU) visas were issued to people from India’s state of Gujarat who posed as a Bollywood crew 🎥. One sweet detail: an alleged actor who couldn’t name a single film he acted in. A debutant, eh?

— Wojciech Kość (@WojciechKosc) September 14, 2023

In mid-December 2022, the foreign ministry sent another email to the consulate, this time requesting the diplomats to issue 83 visas to Indian nationals, also claiming to be a film crew, said Irzyk, cited by the Rzeczpospolita daily.

This time, both consuls decided to attend visa interviews in person, which were carried out by an external company hired by the ministry, said Reszczyk. They found that none of the interviewed people had experience in the film industry, nor did the applicants know the name of the film they were to work on in Poland.

“The makeup artist had been working at the gas station for six months. She did not know how she got into the film service. She claimed it was arranged by her father. The choreographer could not dance. The actor was not able to show any film work,” Reszczyk told the commission.

“It had never happened before that such large groups would travel to Poland to make movies,” added Irzyk.

The opposition has accused the government of presenting itself as being anti-immigration while in fact overseeing a corrupt system that issued visas to 250,000 Asian and African migrants, and which led a deputy foreign minister to be sacked last week https://t.co/tKBjMBPtHe

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 8, 2023

Reszczyk told the commission that, around that time, he received unofficial information from the US that multiple-entry Schengen visas were being used to funnel people into the United States via Mexico, which is made possible by these types of visas.

“I gave the American officer information on 35 people from the first group of ‘filmmakers’ and asked him to check as soon as possible whether these people had, by any chance, left for the United States. After some time, we received information that at least 21 people had crossed the border into Mexico,” he said.

“The purpose of these ‘film’ groups may have been to see if it was possible to channel people to the United States through Poland,” he added.

Upon receiving the information, the consulate refused to issue visas to the remaining 83 applicants, a decision that cost the consulate reprisals from the ministry in the form of inspections and visitations, said Reszczyk.

Additionally, an offer made to Irzyk to take over the Polish consulate in Hong Kong was withdrawn and his deployment in Mumbai was not extended, forcing him out of the diplomatic service.

🇵🇱 Visa scandal:

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs attempted to organize a migrant smuggling route from India to the US through Poland, pressuring Polish consulates to issue multiple-entry Schengen visas allowing entry to Mexico. The US warned about the matter. https://t.co/2ik7bnbqZo

— Amanda McGregor (@_AmandaMcGregor) September 14, 2023

Wawrzyk and  Kobos also were brought before the commission. The former deputy ministry, who was sacked over the scandal while PiS was still in office, refused to provide testimony, citing ongoing prosecution proceedings in his case.

His former associate, however, admitted to the allegations of taking bribes and has pledged to cooperate with the investigation. “I want to try to correct my mistakes,” Kobos said, quoted by Onet. “I am ready to share my knowledge with law enforcement and with anyone who will listen to me.”

Kobos is seeking leniency in exchange for acting as a witness. He told the commission that he had confessed to prosecutors to more illegally arranged visas than initially suspected by investigators and suggested that the PiS foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, was behind the scandal, reports Onet.

Edgar Kobos sypie na komisji ds. afery wizowej❗ Były współpracownik Piotra Wawrzyka pogrąża obóz Zjednoczonej Prawicy 🔥#kobos #aferawizowa #komisja #wawrzyk #pisl pic.twitter.com/jYdWnfqXOy

— naTemat (@natematpl) February 28, 2024

Part of Kobos’ testimony was presented behind closed doors without the media present, as the investigation in which he is facing charges is covered by state secrecy. Onet has learnt unofficially that Kobos admitted to taking bribes in exchange for arranging visas for people from Asia and Africa.

He also reportedly told the commission that he did not pay Wawrzyk to help arrange visas but gave him gifts. He also argued that knowledge of the practices was widespread in the foreign ministry and many people were implicated in it. Wawrzyk has previously denied violating any laws.

“In my opinion, the political leadership of the United Right [the name of the PiS-led former ruling coalition] tried to cover up the visa scandal because, in fact, the politicians of the United Right were the only group that could benefit most from it,” said Kobos.

He claimed that, after the scandal broke in September last year, he was followed by security services and urged to keep quiet. Polish media, including Notes from Poland, reported at the time that the Kobos’s name had been removed from governmental webpages shortly after the news broke.

Traces of a man charged over a visa corruption scandal have been removed from government webpages.

His name and photographs alongside a deputy minister who was fired over the scandal have disappeared but remain visible in archived versions of the pages https://t.co/PQFSwVJ29K

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 20, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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