Poland’s conservative governing party was hoping to make migration a key campaign theme ahead of the country’s national election. But not like this, with arrests, dismissals and an attempted suicide among its own ranks.
The Law and Justice party is being rocked by reports that Polish consulates issued visas in Africa and Asia in exchange for bribes, opening the door for migrants to enter the European Union — which some hoped to use as a way into the United States.
Details about the corruption scandal are coming to light a month ahead of the country’s parliamentary election Oct. 15, leaving Law and Justice struggling to control the damage.
A former deputy foreign minister who was dismissed amid reports of his involvement in the scheme was hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt.
Law and Justice has been the election frontrunner in a field of several parties, and it’s not clear if the affair will dent its support. But opposition politicians have seized on the “visa affair,” accusing the government of corruption and hypocrisy, given its strong anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Critics say the governing party raised the specter of immigration to frighten Poles and then offered promises of keeping them secure, while a corrupt cell operating within the diplomatic corps opened a channel for migrants to enter the EU.
“This is the biggest scandal we have faced in the 21st century. Corruption at the highest levels of government, bringing a direct threat to all of us. And it’s because of people whose mouths are full of phrases about security,” Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, an opposition politician, said in a televised address to the nation.
Poland has opened its door to Ukrainian refugees, who are primarily white and Christian, but governing party officials have long made clear that they consider Muslims and others from different religions or ethnicities to be a threat to the nation’s traditionally Catholic cultural identity and security.
Media reports allege Poland’s consular sections issued about 250,000 visas to migrants from Asia and Africa since 2021 in return for bribes of several thousand dollars each. Poland is a member of the EU’s visa-free zone known as Schengen, and once those migrants arrived in Poland they could cross Europe’s borders freely.
The Foreign Ministry announced Friday it had dismissed an official “in connection with the ongoing findings regarding irregularities in the visa issuance process.” It said the official was Jakub Osajda, the director of the ministry’s office of legal and compliance management. It also announced an extraordinary audit of its consular department and all consular posts.
That followed the Aug. 31 dismissal of Piotr Wawrzyk, the deputy foreign minister in charge of consular matters, as the first reports of the scandal appeared in the media. Wawrzyk was hospitalized after a suicide attempt, Polish media reported.
The state prosecutor’s office said Thursday it charged seven people suspected of corrupt activities in accelerating visa procedures, with three of them under temporary arrest.