Fischer accused of ignoring illicit trade in EU tourist visas

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Joschka Fischer, Germany's Foreign Minister, has been directly implicated in a growing political scandal over claims that thousands of criminals and prostitutes from the former Soviet bloc were allowed to enter the European Union on dubious tourist visas.

Joschka Fischer, Germany's Foreign Minister, has been directly implicated in a growing political scandal over claims that thousands of criminals and prostitutes from the former Soviet bloc were allowed to enter the European Union on dubious tourist visas.

Newspaper reports alleged that Mr Fischer had been warned by his own ministry that "human traffickers" were chronically abusing German tourist visa laws, encouraging a wave of illicit immigration from eastern Europe more than a year before the practice was stopped last autumn.

The reports came a day after the Foreign Minister formally took responsibility for the affair by admitting that there had been "oversights and mistakes" at German embassies in eastern Europe. But he insisted that he had not been aware of the problem until late last year.

However, the Rheinischer Post newspaper cited a report yesterday by Mr Fischer's ministry, issued in March 2003, which warned that lax visa-granting practices had led to a "considerable increase in the number of applicants" and that they had been "abused by human traffickers for many months".

The influx of tens of thousands of eastern Europeans, many of them women forced into prostitution and members of criminal gangs, is believed to have started in March 2000, after Mr Fischer signed a document which instructed German embassies to be more lenient about issuing visas. The policy was implemented in an attempt bid to placate his own Green party which strongly opposes the idea of "fortress Europe" and favours immigration.

But reports in Der Spiegel magazine revealed that the policy was ruthlessly exploited by human traffickers who resorted to paying vagrants in Germany to fill out hundreds of visa application forms inviting the recipients to visit trumped-up addresses.

The forms were then alleged to have been sold to many eastern Europeans who found they could hand them in at German embassy immigration offices and enter Germany without any further checks.

The foreign ministry denied the newspaper allegations and Mr Fischer, who is due to appear before a parliamentary committee of inquiry investigating the affair, declined to comment further.

Eckhardt von Klaeden, a senior Christian Democrat MP, accused him of "lying". Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian prime minister and a former conservative candidate for chancellor, said: "Either Fischer has not been telling the truth or he has failed to read important documents from his own ministry. He will have to resign if the newspaper reports are true."

Other conservative MPs insisted that embassy staff had warned Mr Fischer of the dramatic consequences of his visa ruling several times between 2000 and 2004 and claimed he had done nothing to curtail the influx.

Comments