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Government clamps down on visa fraud

The embassy in Lima was one of the embassies with possible fraud Keystone

The foreign ministry says it has introduced a series of measures to lower the risk of embassy officials accepting bribes in exchange for Swiss visas.

This content was published on April 18, 2006 - 16:08

Over the past couple of years, several cases of suspected visa fraud at Swiss missions abroad have come to light, most recently in Pakistan.

The authorities are currently investigating cases involving Swiss embassies in Oman, Peru, Russia, Nigeria, Serbia and Eritrea.

In November last year, the former honorary Swiss consul in Oman was given a nine-month suspended prison sentence for falsifying visa application forms and charging over the odds for the travel documents. Over a four-year period ending in 2003, the official pocketed SFr143,000 ($112,000).

A senior foreign ministry official, Martin Dahinden, said on Tuesday that inspectors were now being sent more frequently to embassies in countries where the "situation could be problematic", even if there had been no evidence of irregularities.

Risk catalogue

Dahinden said his office had compiled a catalogue of risks in order to better define the countries where Swiss embassy officials might be easily coerced.

People willing to risk their lives for passage into Europe would stop at nothing to get a visa, the official said, which is why the catalogue criteria included "migration pressures", the level of sophistication of organised crime in a given country, as well as human rights.

Dahinden also said in an increasing number of cases, visa applications needed the signature of at least two embassy officials before being approved or rejected, and Switzerland had increased security measures.

However, a decision by Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey last June to replace embassy employees hired locally with Swiss staff on the belief the latter would be less susceptible to bribery has been put on hold due to budget constraints.

Sexual harassment

The authorities in Pakistan are investigating a local man employed by the Swiss embassy in Islamabad on charges of sexual harassment.

The story made the headlines at the end of February when a Pakistani newspaper revealed that the man had demanded sex from two women seeking Swiss visas.

In reference to this case, the foreign ministry said Switzerland was only able to prosecute Swiss citizens, and not embassy employees of other nationalities.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The 141 Swiss missions abroad issue 500,000 visas a year, while about 40,000 applications are rejected.
The number of visas issued is expected to 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.

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