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May 17, 2006

FO yet to brief Kasuri on Madrid passport swindle


May 17, 2006

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri said on Tuesday he had learnt about the Madrid passport swindle through The News but wondered why the Foreign Office was keeping mum about the issue, serious “corruption aspects” of which were now opening up.

Kasuri told this correspondent that the Foreign Office had not yet put up the matter before him. “I believe presently the issue would have been under consideration of the Foreign Ministry’s administration,” he observed.

Meanwhile, sources in the Foreign Office said reports pouring in from Madrid spoke of the embassy’s involvement in “corruption” in the issuance of passports to those seeking regularisation of their stay in Spain.

Early last year, the Pakistani mission in Madrid informed the FO that it had lost hundreds of passports.

On the basis of information provided by the country’s ambassador there, the FO sent two high-level teams to Madrid to probe the matter.

One of these teams, headed by FO special secretary Sher Afgan, confirmed in its recently submitted report that 1,058 Pakistani passports were missing from the mission. The report also accused certain embassy officials of issuing green passports to themselves and their families despite having official blue passports.

Strangely, despite so much of activity within the FO on this issue, the foreign minister — the political head of the ministry — has not yet been briefed on the subject. Kasuri when asked, said, “To be honest I did not know about this before I read it in The News.”

When enquired if it was not odd that he was not briefed on the incident that had occurred one year back, the minister said that obviously the issue would come to him.

By his reckoning, the ministry’s administration might be dealing with the matter right now as it is purely an administrative matter.

The foreign minister explained that there is so much of brushfire in the Foreign

Office that one does not get time to ponder over administrative matters.

When his attention was drawn to the aloofness of the FO reflected in its reluctance to discuss the Madrid issue with this correspondent despite repeated requests and its refusal to answer any query on the matter, Kasuri said, “I don’t know why they are doing this. They should respond to the media’s queries.” He committed himself to directing the FO to brief The News on the matter.

So far, the FO has only once spoken on the issue. It was its special secretary, Sher Afgan, who also led the Madrid inquiry team and assured that those responsible for the scam would be exposed and taken to task.

He also said the FO had collected evidence and would proceed in a fair manner accordingly.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said overseas Pakistanis in Spain have many tales to tell. Some of the Pakistanis there reportedly told the Sher Afgan-led inquiry team that they had to pay huge bribes to get passports, but the team wanted documentary evidence.

These sources said there were allegations of commission paid for the issuance of passports to overseas Pakistanis who wanted to legalise their stay in the country. Up to 1,500 euros, a source said, were charged for one passport and this commission was being routed through travel agents.

It is also alleged that some selected travel agents were operating as front men for embassy officials, who do not hesitate to ask passport seekers to come through these designated private persons.

“How the passports were issued in Madrid is an open secret known to every Tom, Dick and Harry here (Madrid),” an overseas Pakistani was quoted by a source as saying.

The source said many overseas Pakistanis were asking why the first inquiry committee of the FO that visited Madrid last year did not talk to anyone outside the embassy.

Pakistanis in Madrid have complaints about the second inquiry team too, which visited the Spanish capital city in March. When the committee was told of corruption in the embassy, it demanded concrete evidence.

There are also many Pakistanis who did not mind paying commission to get the their country’s travel document. They are of the view that now the embassy is very strict in the issuance of passports and demands so many documents, including Nadra’s NICOP (National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis), which is not available with most of them.

They complain that they have moved to one extreme of a “free-for-all” situation to avoid the other extreme of impossible documentation.

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