Tuesday

4th Oct 2022

Schengen visas mass-produced in Sofia

Louis Michel, Belgian foreign minister and president of Belgium's six-month EU presidency, has been accused in court of covering up a corruption scandal of mass sale of EU entry visas to organised crime groups, reports the Telegraph. A civil lawsuit against Mr Michel was brought by a Belgian diplomat, Myrianne Coen, who served as first secretary in the embassy in Sofia. She claims that her superior, ambassador Koenraad Rouvroy, was tied to the Russian mafia and created fictitious companies to request EU visas for the criminal underworld.

In the Belgium court in Neufchateau, Ms Myriann Coen alleged that her boss was promoted to a senior post in charge of European affairs after she reported the abuses to the Foreign Ministry, while she suffered a series of reprisals

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A separate Belgium criminal inquiry into the alleged sale of diplomatic status "red cards" by the protocol office to leading figures of the Russian mafia, reluctantly started after the French police broke a crime ring in Paris carrying the cards. One junior official has been charged, while all the "A" grade officials have been promoted, reports the Telegraph.

The Telegraph adds that the scandal highlights the problems created by the EU's Schengen system of open borders, which allows organised crime to target embassies from EU states with the weakest controls as the easiest way into the Schengen area.

Mr Michel succeeded in preventing a parliamentary inquiry earlier this summer by pleading with Belgian MPs to hold off for the sake of the country's reputation during Belgium's EU presidency.

Also, the French embassy in Bulgaria has come in the focus after an investigation revealed it had issued 65,000 tourist visas in 2000 compared to 30,000 in 1999. "I got up to 630 visas to sign a day," a French official posted in Sofia, Mr Rudy Demange, told Liberation. He claimed to be unable to properly control the enclosed documents as they were written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The French investigation took place after police in February 2000 routinely checked prostitutes in the streets of the EU Parliament headquarters in Strasbourg. Many east European women work here and the police control of their papers lead to further investigations of the French embassy in Sofia.

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