Seven charged in Polish visa irregularity probe - prosecutor

WARSAW (Reuters) - Seven people have been charged over alleged irregularities in the granting of Polish work visas, a prosecutor said on Wednesday, amid a deepening scandal on the hot-button subject of migration ahead of Oct. 15 elections.

Opposition claims that the government was complicit in a system in which migrants received visas at an accelerated pace without being properly checked after paying intermediaries could be damaging for the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has campaigned on a tough stance on immigration.

"Thanks to the efficient operation of the (security) services, the prosecutor...brought charges against seven people in this proceeding," said Daniel Lerman, deputy director of the Department for Organized Crime and Corruption of the National Prosecutor's Office. "Three people are under temporary arrest."

Former Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk, who was fired on Aug. 31, the same day that Poland's Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) carried out a search of the foreign ministry, is accused by the opposition and media reports of playing a central role in the visa scheme.

Asked whether Wawrzyk was among those facing charges, Lerman declined to comment on individuals but said no state employees were among the seven accused.

Wawrzyk has not commented publicly on the claims about his involvement and the foreign ministry said his dismissal was due to "a lack of satisfactory cooperation".

On Wednesday opposition lawmakers said knowledge about the irregularities was widespread in government, stretching as far as Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau.

PiS have said they are waiting for the results of the investigation, but that the opposition was exaggerating the scale of the problem.

PiS spokesperson Rafal Bochenek said on Thursday it was a "pseudo scandal" and that the state had started taking action long before opposition politicians were even aware of the issue.

The opposition has said the irregularities could concern hundreds of thousands of visa applications, but prosecutors have said that their investigation concerns several hundred.

Deputy coordinator of special services Stanislaw Zaryn said that none of the visa applicants concerned by the investigation posed a security threat to Poland.

He also dismissed media reports that Polish services had only acted after being alerted by other European Union countries that were seeing unusually high number of migrants entering with Polish visas - which under the EU's Schengen open border regime give the holder the right to work throughout the bloc.

According to Eurostat data cited by Rzeczpospolita daily on Wednesday, Poland issued almost 2 million work visas over the past three years, including 600,000 in 2020, more than a quarter of the EU total that year.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Editing by William Maclean)