Prosecutors have announced that seven people have been charged, including three placed in pretrial detention, over their suspected involvement in corruption relating to the issuing of Polish visas for foreign workers.
The scandal has engulfed the government since last week, just one month before it seeks a third term at parliamentary elections. But officials say the opposition has been exaggerating the scale and nature of the case as part of its campaign to remove the ruling party from power.
Szczegóły mojego wystąpienia w tekście 👇https://t.co/9sYXtK3b7j
— Stanisław Żaryn (@StZaryn) September 14, 2023
At a press conference yesterday, the spokesmen for Poland’s security services, Stanisław Żaryn, and the deputy director of the National Prosecutor’s Office’s organised crime and corruption department, Daniel Lerman, addressed the issue for the first time following days of opposition accusations and media speculation.
“Due to journalistic inquiries and false information surrounding the investigation, I would like to present some basic facts,” said Lerman, quoted by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
He revealed that prosecutors initiated an investigation in March this year on the basis of information provided by the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) regarding payments made to accelerate visa processing. Żaryn added that the CBA’s own investigation had begun in July 2022.
Lerman noted, however, that the case only concerns hundreds of visa applications and that most of them had in any case been rejected. That stands in contrast to opposition claims that hundreds of thousands of issued visas are under suspicion.
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
Lerman also revealed that corruption charges had been brought against seven individuals, with three being held in detention. However, he did not provide any information about their identity other than the fact that none of them hold managerial positions at the foreign ministry, reports broadcaster RMF.
The prosecutor also announced the irregularities had been identified at Polish consular missions in Hong Kong, Taiwan, UAE, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the Philippines and Qatar, but not in any African countries, contrary to media reports.
The scandal initially came to public attention two weeks ago when Piotr Wawrzyk, the deputy foreign minister with responsibility for overseeing the consular and visa systems, was suddenly dismissed from his position amid reports that CBA officers had visited the ministry and seized his electronic devices.
Since then, media reports based on unnamed inside sources – published in particular by Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading daily that is critical of the government – have claimed that corruption relating to visas took place on a large scale and that senior government figures were aware of it.
Szef @MSZ_RP Zbigniew Rau jest umoczony w #aferawizowa
Wielokrotnie informowano go o wydawaniu polskich wiz w zamian za haracz.
Pismo do szefa dyplomacji wysłała https://t.co/BpvGpZr03G. Konfederacja Lewiatan, a wielki skandal wybuchł w Ugandziehttps://t.co/7LbTvK8yEw
— Bartosz T. Wieliński 🇵🇱🇪🇺🇺🇦 (@Bart_Wielinski) September 13, 2023
Those claims have been seized on by the opposition amid the election campaign. They have claimed that not only does it show government corruption, but also hypocrisy, given that the ruling party has presented itself as strongly opposed to illegal immigration.
Yesterday, opposition leader Donald Tusk declared that “250,000 visas were issued within 30 months”. That means “every month, Polish offices admitted into Poland [the equivalent of] a large town from Asia and Africa. We still don’t have any answers about what exactly happened and who is behind it”.
He issued a list of five questions the government should answer relating to what it knew about the scandal and when, who has benefited materially from the alleged corruption, how many terrorist suspects may have been admitted to Poland, and what Poland’s allies have said about the issue.
🔴 5 PYTAŃ do rządzących od @Donald Tusk.
— Adam Szejnfeld (@szejnfeld) September 14, 2023
However, speaking yesterday to state broadcaster TVP, interior minister Mariusz Kamiński rejected such accusations. Like Lerman, he noted that the case relates to “several hundred visas, not several hundred thousand, as claimed by the opposition…who want to create a sense of chaos”.
In fact, argued Kamiński, the case shows that the Polish state is operating exactly as it should, because it “quickly diagnosed the problem, stepped in decisively and [will] punish those who have committed crimes”.
At yesterday’s press conference, Żaryn also noted that – contrary to opposition claims that terrorist suspects could have exploited the system to enter Poland – all visa applicants were vetted and no security threats were identified.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued this morning, the foreign ministry announced that, in connection with the scandal, it has dismissed the director of its legal and compliance office, ordered an audit of the ministry’s consular department and all consular posts, and terminated contracts with external visa processing firms.
Warto przeczytać ten tekst. Afera wizowa jest, ale jednocześnie trzeba znać proporcje. Jej faktyczne skutki są jednak mniejsze niż przedstawia to opozycja.
A że Oko. press będzie siedzieć w wolnej Polsce, to wiadomo 😉 https://t.co/WaPgPMp5w2
— Stefan Sękowski (@sekowskis) September 15, 2023
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Main image credit: Study.gov.pl (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.