Visas-for-sale scandal hits French consulate as Hollande visit Iraqi Kurdistan
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As French President François Hollande visits the Iraqi Kurd capital, Arbil, a visas-for-sale scandal at the French consulate there has hit the headlines. Thousands of Iraqi Christians hope to take advantage of France’s offer to help them but an investigation into allegations of corruption at the consulate is under way.
An estimated 10,000 Iraqi Christians have applied to come to France since the Islamic State (IS) fundamentalist group’s offensive started three months ago.
France has promised to take in many of them and Hollande was to meet the Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako during his visit.
Six extra staff have been sent to Arbil to handle requests to come to France, although NGOs say only about 50 have so far been successful.
They are unlikely to be asked for more than the statutory 20 euros for an appointment and should not have to pay over the odds for their visas but, according to reports in the French media, that would not have been the case a few months ago.
In April the French foreign affairs ministry asked judges to open an investigation into allegations that staff were charging hundreds of dollars for appointments and even more for visas and that requests were being channelled through a travel agents owned by the husband of an embassy employee.
The deputy consul, Ludovic Francelle, has been suspended and at least one member of local staff, Suhaila Hassan, fired.
While the consul, Alain Guépratte, is not accused of wrongdoing, he has been recalled to Paris.
According to a detailed report on the Mediapart website, the ministry’s own investigators visited Arbil in March after being alerted by Guépratte into a visas-for-cash traffic run by several consul employees.
Several witnesses told Médiapart that the inscription procedure on the consul’s website never worked and people who visited the consulate were redirected to the YellowRiver travel agency.
YellowRiver was owned by Hassan’s husband.
Witnesses claimed to have paid as much as 600 dollars for an appointment and from 800-1,700 dollars for visas.
It is unclear how long the corrupt practise was going on, although a Kurdish regional government employee told Mediapart that he had informed Guépratte’s predecessor, Frédéric Tissot, of it in 2012.
Le Monde newspaper cites sources who say that two or three local staff have been fired.
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