Visa controversy at the Maltese Consulate in Algiers
In January 2019, the National Audit Office (NAO) of Malta issued a report on “an investigation of visas issued by the Maltese Consulate in Algiers”. This report targeted a supposed visa racket conducted at the Maltese consulate in Algiers from March 2014 to September 2015.
In 2013, the Maltese government asked permission to set a consulate in Algiers, permission that they were granted 27 days later. Malta’s Prime Minister’s cousin, Robert Falzon, became consul general even though he had no diplomatic experience. The NAO report underlines the fact that the selection criteria used in the appointment of M Falzon was inadequate for the selection of a consul. M. Falzon was dismissed in October 2015 for “personal matters”.
Moreover, it has never been clearly established whether or not there was a genuine need to establish a Consulate in Algiers. According to the NAO report, between March 2014 and September 2015, the Consulate received 14,640 visa applications of which 6,779 were granted. As data on previous years were erased it was not possible to know how many visa applications were made before the establishment of the Consulate and therefore to assess the need to open a Consulate in Algiers or not.
From March until August 2014, the Maltese Consulate in Algiers worked from the buildings of the VFS which made the division between the two entities difficult for the applicants as the VFS was also contracted, since February 2014, to provide visa processing services. According to the NAO there was no clear information on the visa process and the activities undertaken by the VFS in this process which increased the risks of misconducts such as briberies. According to the report various allegations directed at the Consulate’s staff and employees of the VFS, suggested the payment of bribes for the issuance of visas. According to M. Fezouine, the consular staff and employees of VFS charged prospective migrants between EUR 4,000 and 8,000 to provided them with fake proof of employment, pay slips or bank account details. Other breaches in the screening process where found, such as the absence of interviews of applicants, which showed a very low level of due diligence and which also posed serious security concerns.
Malta was cited in two alerts issued by Frontex about the potential illegal immigration of Algerian nationals and the fact that Maltese visas were obtained fraudulently in Algiers. The two alerts, dated from the 2 and 6 July 2015, emphasized the mismanagement of “C” type visas, permitting one-entry Schengen visas, delivered by the Maltese Consulate. According to the Frontex alerts, Algerian women and children were departing from Algiers with a transit through Marseille in France to Malta. Though, their purpose was to remain in France. Additionally, on several occasions, French authorities demanded copies of the visa applications of Algerian nationals and started to refuse Algerian Maltese visa holders in Marseille in June 2015. According to data from the Maltese Immigration Police, from March 2014 to September 2015, 3,696 people arrived from Algiers to Malta with a visa issued by the Maltese Consulate in Algiers but only 882 went back to Algiers which represents less than 1 out of 4 people. Similar statistics are found for individuals travelling under a visa “D” (allowing entrance only to Malta and not the whole Schengen area).
This is not the first time that Malta is in the spotlight for mismanaging the attribution of visas. Currently a trial is on-going over the illicit sale of medical visas between 2014 and 2017 and the illicit sale of Schengen visas between 2013 and 2014 at the Maltese Consulate in Tripoli, Libya.
We would like to underline the importance of enhanced due diligence checks as well as the use of fair and transparent procedures in the granting of visas, either through standard ways or through the Golden Visa programme.
Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser