Yet another visa racket with yet another Maltese consulate: Algeria

Published: October 22, 2015 at 9:48pm
The prime minister was in Algiers today

The prime minister was in Algiers today

Malta’s consulate in Algiers has issued Maltese (and therefore EU Schengen) visas to 6,781 Algerian citizens in just 18 months.

The consulate began receiving applications from Algerian citizens, for EU Schengen visas, in March last year. By September this year, the figure had reached that total.

The Foreign Minister gave this information in parliament in response to a question put by Opposition deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami.

I am glad to have the hard figures because I have been investigating this story after receiving a tip-off a couple of weeks ago. An Algerian source claimed that citizens of his country have since last year been able to “buy” a European Union Schengen visa from the Maltese consulate. The dollar-sum fees mentioned are large but he was unable to clarify whether the payments are formal, going to the government of Malta, or whether they constitute a bribe to an official operating a racket.

Air Malta began operating twice-weekly flights between Algeria and Malta in 2013, only in the summer. In January 2014, the airline announced that it would be restarting its Algiers/Malta flights the following March. In March, the Maltese government opened its consulate in Algiers and immediately began receiving visa applications. A search on the internet shows that visa services agencies billed it as the setting up of a “Malta visa application centre”.

Sources at the airline inform me that the flights out from Malta are invariably almost empty, but the flights back from Algeria are packed.

This indicates that the Algerians who ‘buy’ a Maltese visa are not actually coming to Malta for business or pleasure but are moving straight out of the country and onwards into the rest of the European Union.

Another source informs me that the vast majority of them don’t even spend one night in Malta but have another flight booked to take them out of the island as soon as they land, never even walking out through the airport.

Last January, when 3,500 visas had been issued to Algerians in the preceding nine months, an immigration officer at Malta International Airport – Johan Mula – raised the alarm about what he called “gaps” in the Schengen system. He reported that he had noticed many Algerians and other third-country nationals who he was “morally convinced” had not been granted visas on a bona fide basis.

The government, through the Home Affairs Ministry, immediately clamped down on Mr Mula, saying that there was “absolutely nothing to indicate the veracity of his allegations” and that “in 2014, after having consulted with the police authorities in Malta, the Maltese Consulate in Algiers refused no less than 46 per cent of all visa applications submitted to it.”

You will notice that the Home Affairs Ministry disingenuously said nothing about the number of visas granted by the Maltese consulate in Algiers – 3,500 at that point – but only about the number refused. With hindsight, we can now put this 46% in context and calculate that in 2014 the Maltese consulate received around 6,500 visa applications from Algerian citizens and accepted 54% of them.