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Visas-for-bribes scandal rocks Poland’s anti-immigrant government before election

Visas-for-bribes scandal rocks Poland’s anti-immigrant government before election

by host

WARSAW — Exactly a month before a pivotal general election, Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party is scrambling to contain a snowballing scandal, in which officials have been fired and others arrested and charged over an alleged bribery scheme to hand out Polish visas.

Poland’s government prides itself on its tough-on-migration credentials but the allegation at the heart of the scandal is that its operatives in consulates worldwide — particularly in Africa and Asia — doled out Polish visas, and EU access, for generous sweeteners. Polish media said some 250,000 visas had been granted since 2021, for thousands and even tens of thousands of euros each.

According to some reports, migrants used Polish multiple-entry visas to travel to Mexico and then enter the United States. Opposition leader Donald Tusk scented blood and slammed the unfolding events as “the biggest scandal of the 21st century in Poland.”

The Polish foreign ministry on Friday canceled all of its contracts for outside companies to help with visa processing, fired the head of its legal and compliance department Jakub Osajda, and promised to carry out an “extraordinary audit” of its consular department in Warsaw and Poland’s consulates worldwide. 

The ministry’s statement also sought to lump the blame on Radosław Sikorski, an opposition politician, who last served as foreign minister in 2014.

The deputy foreign minster in charge of consular affairs, Piotr Wawrzyk, was unexpectedly fired on August 31 and removed as a parliamentary candidate for PiS. He was reportedly hospitalized on Thursday evening. He has not been charged.

Polish authorities said that seven people have been charged and three are under arrest in the scandal.

Following Wawrzyk’s dismissal, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported the investigation focused on a system in which non-EU citizens reportedly paid up to $5,000 for a Polish visa.

Multiple-entry visas were also granted to Indians who used them to travel to Mexico looking to cross into the U.S.; some of the visa applicants apparently posed as a Bollywood film crew, news website Onet reported.

The reports are a growing problem for the government, which had built part of its reelection campaign on its tough-on-migrants message, touting the construction of a wall along the border with Belarus to keep out people illegally crossing into Poland. PiS is also holding a referendum on the same day as the election in which one of the questions lambastes the EU’s migration policy.

The government insists it’s got the problem under control.

“There is no problem of illegal immigrants in Poland,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday evening, blaming opposition leader Donald Tusk for “trying to create an alternative false reality” and of seeking to make political hay with the problems at the foreign ministry.

“Irregularities involving several hundred visas — I repeat, several hundred visas — were identified by us as part of our inspection procedures. The Polish services have taken appropriate action and those suspected of violating the law have been identified,” he said.

But the opposition sees a way to win ground in what’s proving to be a very close political campaign as Law and Justice tries to win an unprecedented third term in office on October 15.

Tusk asked top government officials on Thursday: ““How long have you known about it? How big was it? Who of your collaborators and officials benefited materially from it?”

A day later he blasted PiS, saying: “They will scheme to prevent Poles from learning about this racket. They want, as always, to flip the truth about these events by 180 degrees.”

Surveys taken before the scandal exploded show PiS with 38 percent support and Tusk’s Civic Coalition trailing at 30 percent, according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls. That’s not enough for either party to rule alone after the election, meaning they’ll have to find coalition partners to build a majority.

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