Fischer may be dragged into visa scandal

24th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

24 January 2005, BERLIN - German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is in danger of being dragged into a scandal over liberalisation of granting visas to east Europeans after being blamed by former top official for the controversial move. Ex-deputy foreign minister Ludger Volmer of the Greens has given three versions of how the government's new visa regime was approved in 2000 for countries including Ukraine and Russia. Volmer last month told the Franfurter Allgemeine newspaper that he alone had initiated th

24 January 2005

BERLIN - German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is in danger of being dragged into a scandal over liberalisation of granting visas to east Europeans after being blamed by former top official for the controversial move.

Ex-deputy foreign minister Ludger Volmer of the Greens has given three versions of how the government's new visa regime was approved in 2000 for countries including Ukraine and Russia.

Volmer last month told the Franfurter Allgemeine newspaper that he alone had initiated the programme and "would do it again."

But at the weekend, he claimed in a Der Spiegel magazine interview that the order had been made by powers above him in the ministry "all the way to the minister (Fischer)" and that he had essentially been told to rubber stamp it.

In comments to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Monday, Volmer said he had "made the suggestion" to change visa policy but added he had not been authorised to make the final decision.

The visa programme - which was strongly opposed by German diplomats in east Europe - led to a large number of people getting visas ostensibly as tourists to travel to Germany and European Union (EU) nations in the Schengen bloc which have eliminated border controls within the EU.

Many of those granted German visas, however, came to work illegally including in the booming prostitution sector.

The exact number who have arrived in Germany under the programme is unclear but one of the companies which provided mandatory travel insurance to those getting visas issued 172,000 policy certificates.

Both the companies which issued insurance policies have since had their semi-official status revoked by the German Foreign Ministry.

One of the firms, Reiseschuetz AG, was found to have been working with organisations involved in people smuggling, said the Frankfurter Allgemeine am Sonntag paper.

Smelling political blood, leaders of the opposition Christian Democatic alliance (CDU/CSU) have announced a parliamentary probe into the visa affair and say they will demand testimony by Fischer.

A foreign ministry spokesman pledged Fischer would work constructively with the investigation but declined further comment.

Thousands of pages of ministry documents have been requested by parliament for the probe and the opposition aims to start proceedings late this year or early in 2006 - just in time for Germany's autumn 2006 general election in which Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Fischer plan to seek a third term.

DPA

Subject: German news 

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