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Swiss step up probe into Pakistan visa affair

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey held talks with her Pakistani counterpart Kursheed Mehmood Kasuri Keystone

Two Swiss police officers will go to Pakistan next week as part of a probe into visa fraud at Switzerland's embassy in Islamabad, say Swiss officials.

This content was published on May 7, 2006 - 19:10

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who has just left Pakistan, said there was little doubt that the embassy had been targeted by networks engaged in human trafficking.

Earlier this week, Bern confirmed cases of visa fraud had taken place at its Islamabad embassy after Pakistan launched an investigation into embassy employees for allegedly issuing Swiss visas to locals immigrating illegally to Europe.

The scandal broke ahead of a four-day visit, already planned, by Calmy-Rey to celebrate 40 years of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's (SDC) presence in Pakistan.

Speaking from Islamabad, Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel said that the two experts on people smuggling would arrive in the country at the beginning of the week.

This should strengthen the cooperation with the Pakistani investigation team, Knuchel told the Swiss news agency on Saturday.

Discussions

Calmy-Rey, who has been in Pakistan since Thursday, held discussions on the issue with her Pakistani counterpart, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri on Saturday.

Speaking at a news conference afterwards, Calmy-Rey said that the visa section of the embassy would remain closed for the foreseeable future.

"We have little doubt that we have been targeted by criminal networks engaged in human trafficking," said Calmy-Rey.

Echoing earlier comments by the Swiss foreign ministry, she said the networks were allegedly linked to local mafia groups.

Calmy-Rey added that Switzerland would be contacting representatives of other countries who "might be in the same situation".

She said that Switzerland now found itself in "a difficult position" as a result of the abuse of visa procedures at its embassy in Islamabad.

She went on to say that these alleged criminal acts were "attacks against the interests of Pakistan".

Developments

According to reports, one Swiss embassy employee, a Pakistani national, is under arrest and Interpol was issued arrest warrants for another who is said to have fled the country.

Pakistani officials have said that no Swiss nationals are implicated in the affair, said Knuchel, adding that the embassy has helped with the investigations.

Knuchel said that the visa scandal was not the only topic discussed during the visit. High on the agenda was development aid, especially after the earthquake in the Kashmir region last October.

Other topics of discussion were human rights, economic relations and the fight against money laundering. Calmy-Rey also met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukut Aziz.

She returned to Switzerland on Sunday.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

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.

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Key facts

The 141 Swiss missions abroad issue about 500,000 visas a year. 40,000 applications are rejected.
The number of visas issued should 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.
Switzerland is currently investigating cases of visa fraud in Oman, Peru, Russia, Nigeria, Serbia, Eritrea and Pakistan.

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