DAILY TELEGRAPH: BELGIUM EMBASSY IN BG SOLD VISAS

Politics | June 27, 2001, Wednesday // 00:00

Belgium`s incoming presidency of the EU is being overshadowed by systematic sale of EU entry visas to criminal gangs, says the e-edition of Daily Telegraph. The worst case stems from the testimony of a senior Belgian diplomat, Myrianne Coen, who has filed a lawsuit alleging that members of the Belgian embassy in Bulgaria sold entry visas to members of Balkan and Russian gangs, as well as large numbers of immigrants, when she was first secretary in Sofia during the 1990s. Miss Coen claims that the criminal operation in Sofia was run by a senior diplomat in liaison with handling agents from Bulgarian criminal gangs. Belgian police documents obtained by The Telegraph show that several EU embassies in Sofia were accepting bribes, although one report said `the Scandinavians and the Swiss are impenetrable`, while the British embassy was `one of the most difficult`. The documents, based on interviews conducted by Belgian investigators in Sofia and articles in the Bulgarian press, said the French were charging Ј650 to provide visas for Turks and gypsies. The visas give applicants open access to all the countries of the EU`s Schengen zone, which Britain has not yet joined. The only official currently targeted is the diplomat`s former secretary, who said she was acting under orders. The Belgian Foreign Ministry said yesterday it could not take disciplinary action against a civil servant once a judicial investigation is under way, making it impossible to sanction the diplomat.

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