Germany summons Polish ambassador over cash-for-visas affair

By Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany summoned the Polish ambassador on Tuesday, and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser spoke to her Polish counterpart to discuss allegations about a cash-for-visas deal for migrants that has roiled Polish politics, government sources told Reuters.

The Polish government is facing accusations by opposition that it was complicit in a system in which migrants received visas at an accelerated pace without proper checks after paying intermediaries. The German interior ministry's action is the first known international repercussion of an affair that has so far been dominated by local debate.

Germany is seeking urgent clarification as to how many visas might have been issued and the nationalities of the recipients, people familiar with the matter said, and also wanted to know what countermeasures the Polish government was taking.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government is seeking a "quick and complete clarification of the serious allegations of possible visa fraud," one of the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Asked to comment on Berlin's steps, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Arkadiusz Mularczyk told Polish state-run news agency PAP: "It's about clarifying the accusations that some Polish and German media are making against Poland - in a completely unjustified way - in the context of the migration crisis.

"The ambassador explained that these are unjustified accusations. I think he reassured our German partners and I think this meeting had that purpose," Mularczyk said.

In a letter to Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson demanded full clarification of the scandal of up to 350,000 purchased work visas for the EU-Schengen area, BILD reported on Wednesday.

The EU Commissioner has set Oct. 3 as the deadline for answering the questions. Elections will be held in Poland 12 days later.

In the letter made available to BILD, the commissioner points out that the behaviour of the Polish authorities could mean "a violation of EU law and in particular of the EU Visa Code."

Germany has already publicly expressed its concern about the issue and deployed hundreds of additional border police to the German-Polish border.

The scandal erupted just as the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party is seeking to secure a third term in power in parliamentary elections on Oct. 15, with a tougher stance on illegal immigration an important theme of its campaign.

Poland's foreign ministry said on Friday it had fired the head of its legal service and canceled all its contracts for outsourcing visa applications.

A day earlier, seven people were charged over the alleged irregularities in granting work visas and two weeks after anticorruption officers looking in to the scandal searched the foreign ministry and a deputy foreign minister was also dismissed.

PiS has accused the opposition of exaggerating the extent of the issue and suggested some of the problems date back to the opposition's time in power.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin, additional reporting by Alan Charlish, Karol Badohal and Maria MartinezWriting by Matthias WilliamsEditing by Friederike Heine, Tomasz Janowski and Matthew Lewis)