WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland’s foreign ministry said on Friday it had fired the head of its legal service and cancelled all its contracts for outsourcing visa applications amid a growing scandal over the hot-button issue of migration a month ahead of elections.
The announcement came a day after seven people were charged over alleged irregularities in granting work visas and two weeks after anti-corruption officers looking into the scandal searched the ministry and the Deputy Foreign Minister was also dismissed.
Opposition groups have accused the government of being complicit in a system in which migrants received visas at an accelerated pace without proper checks after paying intermediaries.
Polish media, citing sources in the ministry and the ruling party, have said the scandal surfaced after other EU states alerted Warsaw to an unusually high number of migrants entering with Polish visas – which under the EU’s Schengen open border regime give the holder the right to move throughout the bloc.
The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is campaigning for the Oct. 15 vote on a tough stance on immigration, 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.
But in the clearest sign yet that it was acknowledging some link, Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik said on Friday the dismissed Deputy Foreign Minister, Piotr Wawrzyk, was “at least politically responsible for the visa issue”.
Wawrzyk has not made any public statements over the scandal and his office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Local media reported that Wawrzyk was admitted to Warsaw hospital on Thursday evening. The hospital declined to comment, citing patients’ rights to privacy.
On Friday, the foreign ministry said all Polish consulates abroad would be audited, and legal department head Jakub Osajda would be fired, as visa irregularities were being probed.
Reuters could not reach Osajda for comment.
Osajda had also worked as aide to Wawrzyk who was fired on Aug. 31 – the same day as the ministry was searched – with the ministry citing “a lack of satisfactory cooperation”.
Opinion polls show PiS in the lead ahead of the election but facing a tough battle to secure an unprecedented third term in office because it may lack the majority needed to govern.
(Reporting by Marek Strzelecki, additional reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Andrew Heavens)