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First Swiss visa fraud case begins

The Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona (justice ministry)

The former honorary Swiss consul in Oman has appeared at the Federal Criminal Court. It is the first in a series of visa-fraud cases to go to trial.

The 78-year-old Swiss is accused of making more than SFr200,000 ($152,000) from selling Swiss visas. Investigations into other suspected cases of visa fraud are ongoing.

The former honorary consul is accused of falsifying visa application forms and destroying documents between 1999 and 2003.

The accused, from canton Thurgau, was authorised to issue passports to Omani nationals but not to citizens of other countries.

He is alleged, however, to have worked with a Bangladeshi gold trader to arrange entry visas into Switzerland for 134 Bangladeshis.

The prosecution claims he charged SFr1,575 ($1,194) for each of these visas instead of the normal SFr40. In order to cover up the fact that he had exceeded his authority, he is alleged to have forged certain papers and destroyed others.

He also stands accused of getting hold of visas for 37 relatives and acquaintances of his accomplice, who in March was sentenced to eighteen months in prison by a court in Oman for deceit and fraud.

Disagreement

At the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona on Thursday the former honorary consul partially admitted his guilt.

But the prosecution and defence failed to agree on both the number of visas that he is said to have issued illegally and the total sum of money involved.

The accused claimed responsibility for only 65-90 manipulated visas and said that the Swiss ambassador to Saudi Arabia had told him that his area of authority had been widened to include people from other countries.

Prosecutors say the accused earned more than SFr200,000 from his activities.

No date has been set for the verdict.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland issues 500,000 visas a year. But the country also refuses about 40,000 visa requests annually.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office suspects that visas were issued in return for bribes – money or presents – in Swiss missions in Nigeria, Peru, Russia, Oman and Serbia.

The case of the former honorary Swiss consul in Oman is the first to go to trial.

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