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Ambassadors face the chop over visa scandals

The Swiss embassy in Peru where visa fraud has allegedly been uncovered

(Keystone)

The foreign ministry is warning that senior diplomatic heads could roll as a result of investigations into the fraudulent issuing of visas in several countries.

The authorities are examining at least four cases where Swiss visas are reported to have been exchanged for bribes.

In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung, Martin Dahinden, a senior official at the Swiss foreign ministry, said ambassadors would be called to account if it was found that they had failed to ensure adequate checks and procedures.

He warned that embassy or consular staff found guilty of corruption would not be the only ones to suffer the consequences of their actions.

"Diplomats enjoy immunity in the countries where they are posted, but not in Switzerland," Dahinden told the newspaper.

"We would not hesitate to take action, if our investigations show that an ambassador had failed in his duties."

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office confirmed last weekend that Swiss officials at four foreign missions – in Peru, Russia, Oman and an unnamed African country – were under investigation for corruption.

Corruption

Dahinden added that he was not ruling out the possibility that further cases of corruption would surface.

But he said there was no evidence to suggest that the four cases that had come to light so far were just "the tip of the iceberg".

Dahinden revealed that both the visa scandal and corruption would feature high on the agenda at the annual ambassadors’ conference in August.

He added that police fraud investigators would be invited along to the meeting where ambassadors would be reminded of their responsibilities.

"Government employees have apparently committed crimes and this is extremely bad for Switzerland’s image abroad," said Dahinden.

Bribes

According to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, a staff member at the Swiss embassy in Peru was taken into custody three weeks ago on suspicion of accepting bribes.

The arrest followed an investigation launched in November last year when the foreign ministry "received information regarding abuses of visa procedures".

It is the fourth time in the past 12 months that an investigation has been opened into visa abuses.

A former member of staff at the Swiss embassy in Moscow has been accused of selling visas, and a former honorary consul in Oman has been charged with arranging visas for more than 120 people from southeast Asia.

The latter is believed to have accepted bribes of around SFr150,000 ($125,000) between 1998 and 2003.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office said it was also looking into allegations of corruption at a Swiss embassy in Africa.

The decision by the Swiss authorities to make public the investigations comes after a high-profile immigration scandal in Germany.

The easing of rules for issuing visas allegedly allowed criminal gangs, mainly from Ukraine, into the country. Last month Germany’s foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, accepted responsibility for the scandal.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Investigators suspect Swiss visas were sold in Peru for $300-1,000. They should cost $42 (SFr50).

A former honorary consul in Oman is accused of selling 120 Swiss visas for SFr150,000.

A former member of staff at the Swiss embassy in Moscow is under investigation for allegedly selling 200 visas.

Swiss missions worldwide issue more than half a million visas annually.

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