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28 November, 2021
 
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Backchannel migration approvals probed

Phone call to complain about a visa status rejection reveals scandalous probe within interior ministry

Newsroom

A man has accused the interior minister of approving visa extensions for a select number of foreign workers while rejecting others including his elderly mother’s helper, with reports pointing to a bigger scandal where rejected cases were being approved fraudulently through a channel involving a high price tag.

According to Philenews, which broke the story over the weekend, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris was approached by police last year after a number of residence permit approvals raised suspicions within government officials.

Police wanted to know why a phone number belonging to the interior minister’s office fax line was found on approval letters for cases Nouris said he had rejected.

Nouris says he was not aware that approvals were granted to cases he himself had rejected but the man insisted something sinister was going on

The probe was launched internally after Nouris received a phone call from a frustrated man, who was an acquaintance, who demanded to know from the interior minister why he rejected a visa extension for his 86-year-old mother’s foreign housemaid but approved a similar case for someone else.

According to Philenews, it later emerged that a female lawyer was arrested on fraud charges after she was accused of partnering with another employee who was an associate of another official, with reports saying the suspects would handle approvals at a price, with the attorney allegedly receiving €2300 for each approval.

Nouris says he was not aware that approvals were granted to cases he himself had rejected, with police finding evidence on the woman’s laptop linking a total of at least 11 cases. But it was unclear whether a greater number of approvals had gone through the backchannel.

Nouris says matter referred to court

“The matter has been referred to the court,” Nouris said on Saturday morning during a guest appearance on state radio.

But the lawyer has yet to be prosecuted and still represents clients in court, according to Philenews. The woman is expected to be accused of forging the minister's signature while the court case was filed back in September 2020.

The man who called the interior minister to complain about the rejection of his mother’s case had reportedly accused Nouris of playing favorites.

The interior minister maintained he had no knowledge that the woman he had rejected was his mother’s helper, who needed to extend her visa, while also adding he would not have been able to approve the case at all according to Philenews.

Nouris also said he would not tolerate defamation or stand accused of playing fast and loose with the rules, challenging the man to provide evidence.

Employer says he paid woman to get job done

But the man insisted something sinister was going on and provided officials with a copy of the passport biopage of a foreign woman, whose permit was renewed two years after her visa end date had been reached. He had complained to Nouris that his mother’s rejected visa applicant had a pending out of status for only a few months.

Officials later called the employer of the other foreign employee, according to the report, with new details emerging in the case after the employer confirmed to officials on the phone that he had paid a female to get the job done.

Philenews also reported that CYTA had been called in to assess whether the fax was sent from the minister’s office, adding that explanations given to the journalist about Nouris’ number appearing on backchannel approval letters was the product of Photoshop software that allowed numbers to be modified.

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