Who does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Linas Linkevičius, actually work for? The question arises as a result of analysis of developed and already implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the plan on transfer «the goose that lays the golden eggs» – visa business- to private and suspicious hands.
Furthermore –the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with millioned business transfer to third parties a huge database – personal data, as well as banking accounts of people who obtained Lithuanian visas. Starting this year from 29th of January officials will get fingerprints of people, obtained visas.
What is that company to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania presented «the goose that lays the golden eggs»? And is it only business (and business lobbying) or there is something beyond it – for example, certain foreign intelligences? As far as personal databases and fingerprints – is not quite that might be of interest private collectors.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a decision: an intermediary is necessary
Until 2014 foreign citizens, who intended to obtain Lithuanian visa, had to contact the embassy and the consulate of Lithuania. They made payment of a given size and obtained Lithuanian visa. But previous year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Linas Linkevičius, made a decision that visa centres will be established in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and six other countries, and visa services can be executed by a private company, that wan a tender, announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On the 17th of December agreements on visa centres establishment in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, China, Turkey had been signed with the winner of international selection «VFS Global» in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The key advantages of visa centres – considerably extended territory coverage and accessibility, higher service quality: prolonged opening hours, convenient location, payments in local currency, ability to make payments using credit cards, provision of additional services in one centre, convenient preliminary registration.
An applicant makes a payment for the services provided by a visa centre. Amount of payment depends on country and equals to 20-26 euro.
Establishment and operating of visa centres does not cost anything to government budget of Lithuania.
Foreign citizens can continue to contact directly diplomatic missions and consular offices of Lithuania for Schengen visa issuance in the above mentioned countries.
Since the beginning of implementation the Regulation of European Parliament and the Council, concerning visa information system, collection of biometric data of all applicants would become mandatory. For that reason, from the 29th of January next year (2015) visa centres having been opened in countries of the «Eastern Partnership» will be the main element for biometric data collection.
Selected external service provider takes a leading position globally and cooperates with all partners of Schengen zone, providing technical support of visa process at 1369 visa centres in 115 states.
«The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooperates with selected external provider since 2013 year in Russia and Ukraine, where 16 and 13 centres operates», – this was announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 17th of December, 2014 in a press communique.
But whether it looks as good as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly stated?
«Hot commentary» has the information leads to the conclusion that in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a big fraud could have been taken place.
VFS Global in Belarus– true detective story
To win a tender, announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to establish visa centres in Belarus, VFS Global was to submit its list of the objects, where Lithuanian visa centres were planned to be established. The Commission should have examined and carried out assessment of the objects, because from the viewpoint of safety the visa centres should be as embassies and consulates – reliably equipped, provided with information security, protected against criminal actions.
Meanwhile, there is a true detective story unfolded in Belarus concerning VFS Global premises.
On the 17th of December 2014 an agreement on visa centre establishment was signed with VFS Global company in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on the 22nd of December, according to «Hot commentary», VFS Global disappeared somewhere from specified premises ( Internatsionalnaya street, 36).
Having arrived to other addresses, that have been stated for the tender, – Maksima Tanka street, 4 in Minsk, one can see that rehabilitation of the leased premises is still ongoing. There is a municipal 9-storey block of flats without administrative – purpose premises on indicated address in Brest Oktyabrskoy Revolyutsii Street, 5. There is a shopping and entertainment centre «Belostok» on indicated address in Grodno Sovetskaya, 28 , but according to Radchenko Aleksey, Director, commercial property rental agreements for visa centres have not been concluded with any company. The premises on indicated address in Gomel Pesina Street, 42 belong to other company and no any visa centre is located on this address.
However, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs these premises have received the highest points and VFS Global was announced the winner of the tender.
But that is not all. Starting from the 19th of January 2015 Russian company VF Services LLS, head office of which is located in Moscow, Taganskaya street, 17, is a representative of Russian –Indian company VFS Global (official representative is Indian man, but unofficial name of the company relates to brothers Ignatievy) in Belarus . Singh Saurabh Kumar, an Indian citizen, is a representative of the company in Minsk.
The company does not provide visa outsourcing services, but acts through the representative – «RNT Management» LLC. LLC in turn, even without really knowing about premises represented in the tender, locates Lithuanian Visa Centre in an existing Visa Centre of Denmark and Spain, on Zheleznodorozhnaya Street, 33. On the night of 18th and 19th January 2015 changed the sign on this Visa Centre from the “Joint Visa Application Centre Denmark Spain” to “Joint Visa Application Centre Denmark Lithuania Spain”.
The circumstances of the tender, that was held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, to be considered in court, because one of the companies, that participated in the tender ,appealed the results of the tender in court. This company believes that the Commission was nonobjective and the information submitted by VFS Global Company is not reliable and deceiving.
With reference to VFS Global – scandal in Poland
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in press communique: «selected external service provider takes a leading position globally and cooperates with all partners of Schengen zone, providing technical support of visa process at 1369 visa centres in 115 states».
But this so called «offshore» company, that is registered in Mauritius, in tax haven, and the shareholders names of which are confidential, is followed by scandals.
Detailed information about this «offshore» company was given by media in Poland. But in Poland the company is known as VF Worldwide Holdings, although on the website of the company indicates that it is named as VFS Global.
According to the weekly «Wprost», the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland granted to the company, registered in Mauritius, monopoly to mediate in Polish visas obtaining process in Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. According to Wprost, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland did not apply to the security services concerning check of the company. Thus, reliability of the company was not carried out.
According to the official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland cited by Wprost, the system of mediation, concerning Polish visa obtaining, was established because of corruption in Polish embassies and consulates, as well as long lines.
Some countries, members of the European Union, have already cooperated with visa centres and Radoslav Sikorsky, a former foreign minister of Poland, made a decision to implement private intermediary system in Poland, as said official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Wprost. In 2011 visa centre was established in Ukraine according to this system, and some time later visa centre was established in the Kaliningrad region. In Moscow an agreement between the registered company in Mauritius and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland will be ended in 2018. According to Wprost, the same company has recently won a tender for visa centre establishment in Ankara (Turkey) that was announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland.
On the authority of Wprost, before signing an agreement with VF Worldwide Holdings, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not apply to Intelligence Agencies in order to check the company registered in Mauritius. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland says that there is no such legislative requirement for public tenders.
«At least a light check of such companies could be carried out, requesting the Intelligence Agencies of other countries , as well as Interpol, Europol», – says A. Bartsikovski , a former chief of the Interior Security Agency . According to him, criminal organizations through such companies can choose which applications and in what territory will be processed and which will not.
Attention should also be drawn to the fact that check of such companies is the fundamental principle of risk management, for example in banks. Meanwhile, official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland during informal discussion with Wprost admitted: as far as similar agreements with this company were signed by Germany or Spain, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made conclusions that «everything is alright», although nobody check who control this company.
Millions flow to Mauritius
Polish weekly trying to find out who controls the seller of polish visas – intermediary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland VF Worldwide Holdings – has found that VF Worldwide Holdings is registered in India as VFS Global Services and Indian Zubina Karkaria is a leader.
Meanwhile, the company, registered in Mauritius, is used for formal signing of agreements and for profit collecting – because Mauritius is so called tax heaven, although in fact the Indian company provides services. As interlocutor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained Wprost.
In order to obtain a Polish visa an applicant needs to make additional payment to VF Worldwide Holdings, which is an intermediary between an applicant and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland: in Ukraine –18,5 euro, in Russia–19,5 euro and in the Kaliningrad region –17 euro.
Due to the additional payment for mediation, the company, which is registered in Mauritius, processing only documents for obtaining Polish visas since 2012 to October 2014 earned about 30 million euro (approximately 103 million litas), the company earned 2 million euro (almost 7 million litas) in Russia from January to October 2014.
«Wprost» notes, that there is no any additional payment if applicants apply for the visa directly to the embassy or the consulate.
However, as Wprost says, this practice is only on paper. «In fact, people are directed to the intermediary », – admitted a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland.
Data statistics shows the same: there are 63% of applicants applied for a visa through intermediary in Ukraine in 2012, 82% – in 2013.The same situation is in Russia: only 23% of applicants applied for a visa through intermediary in 2012, but in 2013 –90%.There are 83% applicants applied for a Polish visa through intermediary in January –October 2014.Wprost notes, that in 2012-2014, after the intermediary appearance, the amount of rejected applications significantly reduced in Russia and Ukraine: in Ukraine – form 3,5% to 2,7%, in Russia – from 2,26% to 0,84%.
The same situation is in Lithuania
Thus, there is the same situation in Lithuania, as can be seen from journalistic investigations that have been carried out by Polish weekly, there is unchecked and probably is not reliable, in tax heaven registered, private intermediary (supposedly Indian) in visa service, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs creates obstacles for travel companies to obtain Lithuanian visas without intermediary.
Although, in press communique of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania was written, that it is possible to apply for visas in embassies and consulates, but in fact this possibility is only on paper, as a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland admitted to Wprost weekly.
The sources of «Hot commentary» from Belarus described the way the system works. «Travel agencies submit documents to the embassy, but visa applications, for example, of some people are denied because of visa applications are filled in inappropriate way. Although, visa applications form are standard. One more example, people booked hotels, buses, but visas are ready only after a few days. » As if they did not manage to do it in time. And they immediately mention private intermediary – if you pay 20 euro per person to intermediary, documents will be accepted and buses will leave in time. Here is how it works – «go to intermediary», – say sources from Belarus to editors.
By the way, Lithuania is not an exception: scandals related to visa obtaining (and those strangers hidden behind «offshore» company) shakes Poland, Ukraine and Russia.
Scandals – VFS Global’s business card?
“Director of Kaliningrad company: the Polish Consulate started to pursue me”, “To pretend that there is no competition”, “Visas in troubled waters” – these are just a few names of many articles, in the epicenter of which is the winner of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry’s tender – VFS Global.
If our special agencies have checked this company, then, no doubt, would find the following information: in 2012 in light of fat scandal about the visas’ issuance in Ukraine, Poland General Consul Marek Martinek and all related to visa process employees of the Consulate withdrew from the position in Lutsk.
After that, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has conducted an investigation and found that for some visas’ recipients in Lutsk “exceptional conditions” were created – visa without queue, and the intermediary VFS Global has created a “virtual queue”. Although the Consulate was supposed to monitor the activities of the intermediary, in fact, the Consulate itself was involved in this private intermediary’s business. The Polish foreign Ministry has found that people, who wish to get a Polish visa directly at the Consulate, just have been deceived: they lied: “no places”, although the places were, they said “your turn will come only in two weeks” and thus fraudulently sent people to intermediaries – VFS Global. “It was such artificial queue. May I ask you, and why was it created?” – asks a rhetorical question the representative of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the flared up scandal. But in fact he answers indirectly to this question: the investigations revealed that by creating such “virtual queue” through intermediaries 3700 Polish visas were issued.
Hence, it’s possible to calculate: if in Ukraine, according to Wprost, one Polish visa costs 18,5 euro, the earning from this one “virtual queue” is 68 450 euro (236 thousand litas).
Besides, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs hasn’t conduct the investigation of possible corruption – allegedly this is the case of law enforcement agencies.
VFS Global in Ukraine – information “leech”
VFS Global – as an information “leech” – that’s how was named the tender’s winner of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Ukrainian media. “In Ukraine there are several companies related to the “visa centres”, but the most famous of them is the Ukrainian division of the Indian company VFS Global. For some unknown reasons for citizens of Ukraine, a certain number of European consulates have hot passion to this particular company, resulting in the submission of documents for obtaining visas to European countries across the former USSR is managed through this visa intermediary,” – writes “Ukrainian tourism”. The publication claims that don’t have anything against this system of issuing visas, but can’t afford the artificially creation of monopoly on visas’ issuance. “And that’s exactly the situation observed in our country: applying for a Schengen visa in the Consulate of Denmark, France, Belgium, Spain and Italy are made through the visa application centre of VFS Global. Undoubtedly, it means additional payments,”- writes “Ukrainian tourism”.
By the way, some countries, for example Finland, placed in the premises of the visa application centre VFS Global two consular officers, who can issue visas on the spot. As the saying is, „right off the bat”. But the payment for the service at the visa application centre – about 25,2 euro – is obligatory for every person requesting to issue a visa,” – notes “Ukrainian tourism”.
Who will get fingerprints?
So, Lithuania is entangled in the visa business’ web of this formally Indian company VFS Global. However, among a handsome fortune that will make this mysterious private intermediary due to visa business, raised the issue of data protection.
According to the press release of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which we have previously quoted, from January 29 citizens, who wish to obtain a Schengen visa will be required to provide their fingerprints.
Pray tell, in which EU country (including, of course, Lithuania) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can guarantee that managed “by some Indian” VFS Global wouldn’t spread personal data and fingerprints to third parties?
By the way, according to sources of “Hot commentary” in Belarus, to obtain a Schengen visa it is necessary to sign a statement that you consent to the possible transfer of your personal data to third parties”.
“To whom our personal data will be disclosed?” – ask the editorial tourists from Belarus.
However, not only Belarusians are concerned about the issue of data protection – polish weekly Wprost raised the same question.
In Russia and Ukraine there are about 30 visa application centres of Polish VFS Global Services. Their staffers receive documents with valuable personal data and enter it into the computer system, through which data is fed to the Consulate.
The official of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with whom Wprost spoke, admitted that there is a threat of system’s hacking by foreign special services, and information about the personal data of people can “leak”.
Moreover, Wprost is concerned: not only personal data is in hands of a private company, but also fingerprints.
“Fingerprints shouldn’t be a part of private company activities, even if it providing visa services” – strongly expressed opinion the former head of the Interior Security Agency of Poland Bartsikovski.
Incidentally, he noticed that through intermediaries can be provided false fingerprints – it’s impossible to check fingerprints when people are taking out visas. “But, first of all, fingerprint is the work of the intelligence services. Accordingly, the demand for such database among special services from all countries will be very high,” – says to Wprost former head of Internal Security Agency of Poland.
Meanwhile, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to polish weekly, doesn’t see any problems: in fact Visa code doesn’t prohibit this. As it’s well known, “everything is permissible what is not prohibited”.
Thus not only millions of income are in the hands of a private intermediary, but also personal databases. Including fingerprints. And, as remarked “Ukrainian tourism”, for some reason only “of third countries’ citizens of the former Soviet Union”.
Europeans are deceived, stupid, and maybe corrupt or… ?
So, looking at mysterious VFS Global, managed by not less mysterious Indian, which has become wide web for most Ministries of Foreign Affairs of EU countries, resulting picture is as follows: the European Union isn’t affected by any financial crisis and has nothing to do with money, and the budget is so overcrowded that is bound to break. Thereby, EU decided to transfer visa services to private company, because the budget doesn’t need money at all. Of course, that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But seriously, the picture is really very depressing. As you can see from the example of Poland, only in Ukraine and only from Polish visas this “Indian” company earned 30 million euro. How many hundreds of millions euro this “offshore” earns in other European Union countries intermediating in Schengen visas obtaining? And is there any general statistics somewhere in Brussels? Can bet that is not. So then this “visa business” deserves attention and very serious attention, because perhaps was created a very clever scheme of withdrawal from the EU in zone of preferential taxation.
a) offshore company is registered in zone of preferential taxation;
b) this company founds out through corrupt officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs information about external tenders for provision of visa processing services held by Ministry;
c) the company with the help of corrupt links wins the competitions not being business entity of country and not owning (not renting) any premises;
d) after winning the competition, the company doesn’t provide services by itself; 3-5 intermediaries will become contract’s executors, but before signing the contract with the Ministry these intermediaries don’t disclose themselves;
e) the intermediary will earn 1-2 USD for the preparation of documents for one visa, the proportion of money is applied for consulates’ corrupt officials (the creation of “virtual queue” and referral of clients to intermediaries) and ministries’ officials (information about contests, lobbying of interests of the company), the rest “lion’s share flows out” in zone of preferential taxation;
f) under the guise of “visa application centre” actually hides intelligence service of any country, or
g) under the guise of “visa application centre” hides company established in the West after the collapse of the USSR with funds of KGB/Communists/ Communist League not for only sucking of money out of budgets, using the corrupt officials of the ministries through the “visa application centres”, but also for the collection of personal data of citizens (including fingerprints); or
h) under the guise of “visa application centre” is… (other versions).
For sure this is mere a guesswork, but the signals coming from Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, regarding these “visa application centres”, raise questions and very serious questions. Especially because from all appearances no one can say: so who is behind this Indian, which so easy, as if by magic, wins all the tenders concerning the visa application centres in ministries of foreign countries?
By the way, there are now growing calls on this theme: the United Kingdom refused services of VFS Global in 2014, viz. receiving documents and fingerprints. Switzerland followed British example – gradually began to change intermediaries.
European Union doesn’t mind its own recommendations?
During the writing of this article editorial office received the press release of the European Parliament containing EP’s Monetary Policy Committee’s approval of payments of a smaller size using bank cards.
According to the Committee, payments for bank cards in the entire European Union (EU) should be identical and should be less than now. (Now the payments for the servicing of bank cards in the EU differ: it depends on the payable amount, as well as on the type of card and transaction).
“Often, this service is subject to unreasonably high payments <…> According to the European Commission, the new Directive will allow all users in the EU to save approximately 730 million euro per year”, – stated in the press release.
The question arises: the EP’s Monetary Policy Committee (or someone else in accordance with the competence) could analyze and decide on the issue of private intermediaries in visa outsourcing? If it’s counted, how many will save EU users on the unification of bank cards’ servicing payments, so may be EP would bother to count, how many million euro floats from the EU on account of „Indian” companies in Mauritius or Cyprus for visa outsourcing? And would have accepted a Directive – how to stop this outward flow of money (and thus the personal data and fingerprints)?
By the way, perhaps there is no need to „reinventing the wheel” – just the EU countries (among which – Lithuania) should follow the recommendations of the European Economic and Social Committee regarding the “Action Plan to strengthen fight against tax fraud and tax evasion”. Quote: “the Commission recognizes that, in accordance with the freedoms that are granted to companies with activities in the domestic market, companies can form their fiscal partnerships with the countries and territories, recognized as a tax havens, by Member State, that has the weakest protection mechanism. This phenomenon reduces the taxable bases of Member States and poses risk to healthy competition of companies, especially small and medium-sized companies, because it distorts the functioning of the internal market. EESC calls on the Commission and Member States to make a black list of companies engaged in such practice. Alongside with other measures at the national level, Member States should provide the ability to deprive such companies the right to participate in the public tender or, if necessary, to deny them government assistance”. (2013/C 198/05).
So, maybe the EU should move from words to deeds – first of all should calculate, how many millions of euro lose the budgets of the EU Member States, outsourcing visa services to the private “Indian” VFS Global. Secondly, finding out the way of withdrawal from the EU (from Poland, for example, to Mauritius’ tax heavens), should start to follow its own recommendations – blacklist such company and exclude its participation in public procurement.
Or the EU is so deep in the solution of Ukrainian question, that everything else – hang it all?
I wonder, what Ministries of Foreign Affairs of EU countries guess about VFS Global’s? And how secret service of the European Union treat the transfer of millionth database of personal information (including fingerprints) to the hands of private company? (Without saying, if any still exist).