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Entire staff at Pakistan embassy replaced

Change of guard: the Swiss embassy in Islamabad Keystone

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has ordered the replacement of all staff at the Swiss embassy in Islamabad, following an investigation into visa fraud.

This content was published on May 18, 2006 - 15:19

A foreign ministry report on Thursday said the mission was targeted by organised crime in Pakistan. "However, the investigation produced no evidence that Swiss embassy staff were guilty of criminal acts."

The report said the foreign minister had decided that all embassy staff, including the ambassador, should be replaced. In addition, three disciplinary investigations are to be opened.

At the beginning of May Bern confirmed around 100 cases of visa fraud at the embassy. It came after Pakistan launched an investigation into embassy employees who allegedly issued Swiss visas to locals migrating illegally to Europe.

Staff were implicated by a Pakistani man working at the embassy who had been arrested earlier in the year on charges of sexual harassment. He allegedly demanded sex from two women seeking visas.

Two Pakistani employees of the embassy had previously been accused of similar activities.

Conclusions

The investigation, ordered by Calmy-Rey on April 13, found that a lack of clearly defined responsibilities in the visa section meant there was an increased risk of employees improperly issuing visas.

In addition, the head of administration neglected his supervisory and control duties, although no evidence was found that the head of administration or other Swiss employees were involved in any underhand dealings.

The foreign ministry stressed that the replacement of the entire embassy staff does not imply guilt. Rather its purpose is to make possible a complete overhaul of the visa section.

The visa section, which was shut in early May, will remain closed.

The entire staff of the Consulate General in Karachi will also be replaced and its organisation will be strengthened.

Calmy-Rey has ordered three administrative investigations into the head of the Islamabad administration, the current head of mission and his predecessor, who have overall responsibility for the management of the embassy.

Criminal networks

Earlier this month the Swiss foreign ministry said criminal networks at the embassy were linked to local mafia groups.

A senior foreign ministry official said individuals involved with a human trafficking ring had most likely attempted to infiltrate the embassy's visa department.

Thursday's report said investigations into the activities of criminal organisations in the visa area were continuing and that Switzerland was cooperating with the competent investigating authorities in Pakistan.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office has been informed of the results of the investigation.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The 141 Swiss missions abroad issue about 500,000 visas a year. 40,000 applications are rejected.

The number of visas issued should drop to about 400,000 once Europe's Schengen accord, doing away with border controls, comes into effect in Switzerland - at the earliest in 2008.

Switzerland is currently investigating cases of visa fraud in Oman, Peru, Russia, Nigeria, Serbia, Eritrea and Pakistan.

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Key facts

February: Reports from Pakistan say a local employee of the Swiss embassy in Islamabad demanded sex from women seeking Swiss visa.
March: Swiss foreign ministry sends inspector to the embassy.
April: Pakistani officials say they are investigating several Swiss employees for visa fraud and suspected human trafficking. One local employee has been detained. Swiss authorities open administrative investigation.
May: Two police officers are sent to Pakistan to help with the investigations and the visa section is temporarily closed.
May 18: Foreign ministry report published.

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