Document Dilemma:

Travel Across Region Brings Legal Ordeal or Costly Risks

RUSSIA: A Price for Everything PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 13:46

The doorway of The Central Telegraph, with the Soviet State symbol still hanging above it, opens into a world of visa possibilities. --by Julia Balashova, Novaya Gazeta
About 500 meters from the Kremlin and Red Square on Tverskaya Street squats the 52,200 square-meter grey building of The Central Telegraph. Granite steps lead to a central entrance and above the glass of the massive wooden front doors hangs an old Soviet State emblem with the prominent terrestrial globe and stylized hammer and sickle below it.

From this building, it is possible to get nearly anywhere in the world. With a tourist or business visa in a passport and without spending time in line or even in an embassy, travel is possible to Europe, Australia, South America, Asia and North America. There are few problems for anyone with enough money.

An investigation by reporters for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) shows that money and connections are enough to provide not only a passport and a visa, but all the necessary documents for unrestricted travel all over the world. They also can secure a second citizenship and a second passport and even a second passport under a different name.
BULGARIA: Persistent, Growing Problems PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 13:44

Police move an armored Budimir Kujovich in an extradition from Bulgaria. --Courtesy of Bulgarian Ministry of Interior

The list of foreigners still waiting for Bulgarian citizenship—and passports—is longer than 51,000, and their requests, dating as far back as four to five years, have not even been considered.

In that time, the Ministry of Justice has considered another 8,204 requests and rejected half, mainly because candidates lied about their Bulgarian origins or presented false supporting documents.

The minister in charge of such matters, Bojidar Dimitrov, who pointed out persistent and growing problems with fraudulent applications, was asked who could easily get a Bulgarian passport.

His reply was quick: “Ask Kujovic; he has a passport.”
MACEDONIA: Turning Away from the Law PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 13:45

Airport in Skopje

The South Macedonia woman waited impatiently in Skopje airport, asking if there were any delay of her plane to Oslo.

Told that the plane to Norway was still on time, Suzana Gorgiovska began talking about her ordeal with the Norwegian embassy in trying to get a visa, so that she could, at 70, visit her son and see her year-old granddaughter “before I die.”

“I have asked four times for a Norwegian visa,” she said at the time, in 2008. “And always have been denied. I have never been to Norway, so my son had taken care of all of the documents. For a whole year I was hoping to go there, to see my one-year-old granddaughter. My son asked there [in Norway] what it would take to bring his mother to visit. My son works there as a doctor.”

She said she had never left Macedonia, but after she left the Norwegian embassy in Skopje one time, “a man with a mustache called my younger son and offered help…the man claimed that he knew high officials in the Macedonian government who have people inside the embassy. That man asked for €1,700 to help us with the visa.
MOLDOVA: The Wait and Ways to Beat It PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 13:45

Serghei Ivanenco, arrested for counterfeiging Romanian identity documents. --Courtesy Moldavian Ministry of Domestic Affairs.

Moldovans seeking to move to the Schengen area have one tool that many others do not—they can ask to claim citizenship of Romania, a process officially called “regaining of citizenship,” because the people share a language and once shared mutual territory. That citizenship would guarantee them a Romanian passport and membership in the EU, which would allow them to move freely throughout EU countries.

That tool, though, is not an easy one to use, and it is heavily abused.  Since 1999, according to a comparison of records and sources, as many as a million Moldovan citizens—one fourth of the country’s population—immigrated, mostly illegally, to European Union countries. National and international organizations figure that anywhere from 600,000 to a million Moldavans work abroad, but the Moldova National Bureau of Statistics’ lists the official number as 350,000.

Since 2007, when Romania was granted membership to the EU, the forgery of Romanian passports and ID cards became a lucrative business, say Moldovan experts.
UKRAINE: Visa Inequality PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 13:46

Ukrainian passport

Businesses in Ukraine flourish that say they can skirt the system and help get visas, residence permits, second citizenships and even honorary consulates, but just getting to travel to Europe for ordinary citizens is nothing short of an ordeal.

That ordeal can come at very unexpected times. Hennadiy Zvyahintsev, the art director of Smerechyna Folk Ensemble from a mountain town in western Ukraine said he got an invitation for the group to perform at North East England’s Billingham International Folklore Festival in the summer. He launched the visa process, confident of success because the troupe had traveled and performed in many countries, including Austria, Italy and Romania, all EU members.

But, he said, he was told there would be no visa when he went to the British Consulate in Kiev. Having paid for the trip, the group tried to persuade consulate officials that all 45 performers, young and old, had no intentions to stay in England and they showed consulate employees photos, videos and awards for past performances.

When nothing persuaded them to grant a visa, Smerechyna (Silver Fir Tree) performers tried a final tactic, performing in front of the Embassy’s doors. It had worked before, in 2007, when a children’s dance group performed for three hours in front of the French consulate and got their visas granted.

Silver Fir Tree dancers were not so lucky, even though he was invited inside. A man who, from behind a bullet-proof glass window, introduced himself as the consul, but said no.

Now, Zvyahintsev is less confident about the spring season, because having a UK refusal stamp in a passport raises suspicions at other consulates.

Criminals with Counterfeited Bosnian Documents PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 13:43
Boris Grubešić, the spokesman for the BiH Prosecutor’s Office, said people with fake documents are most often discovered at border crossings. Foto by CIN

For five years the Prosecutors’ Offices and police in BiH have continuously uncovered the masterminds and associates involved in counterfeiting of Bosnian identity papers. Many abuses have been reported and among those who got false documents were criminals and citizens from neighboring countries.

By The Center for Investigative Reporting

Hundreds of people, including criminals, managed to obtain counterfeited Bosnian documents. These fake documents enable them to avoid justice, police and prison but also to cross borders freely, to obtain passports and visas, and abuse them in many other ways.

"This is how terrorists, war criminals, drug dealers, car thieves, people who commit business fraud, people who engage in economic criminal can hide. This is how they can register various citizens associations, private companies," said Gojko Vasić, a head of the Republika Srpska (RS) Crime Police.

Over the past two years, the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) has conducted a wide investigation into forgeries and illegal issuing of Citizens' Identity Protection System (CIPS) documents.

A Visit to Visa Hell PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Sunday, 29 November 2009 12:22

Greek Consulate in Odessa, Ukraine

One of the most vivid examples of the treatment that ordinary people might face was the widely celebrated case of Ukrainian Valentyna Maley, who wanted to spend her vacation in Greece last summer.

As she recalled it in various media interviews, it wasn’t the first time she had visited this Mediterranean country, and so she had no second thoughts and she bought a €1,300 tour from a travel agency. And yet she was refused a visa, on the ground that she goes to Greece too often; she was required to come to the Greek Consulate for a personal interview.

As she recounted her story, when she appeared and tried to explain her case, the consulate’s Ukrainian employee told her she was not to talk unless she was asked to. Suddenly, she said, the consul started yelling at her in Greek, and then started making faces at her. As she said at the time, the consul, Dimitrios Mikhalopulos, started hitting the bulletproof glass between them, as if trying to hit her on the face and slap her. Shocked, she left.
Honorary Consuls: Wealth Can Beget Wealth PDF Print E-mail
Written by OCCRP   
Sunday, 29 November 2009 16:25

Consulate in Bitola --Courtesy of Nova Makedonija

Wealth and connections are the building blocks to a rarified form of freedom from travel restrictions, the title of honorary consul.

The honorary consul status is outlined in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 and describes a welter of privileges and opportunities, as well as the responsibilities of an honorary consul. Those duties, for a post that carries no stated salary, include enhancing economic, scientific and cultural development of the country a person represents.

This status and title can be impressive, as are the stated responsibilities, but just like virtually every other means of unrestricted travel and particular business opportunities, it is on sale, often goes to those with connections, has considerable business and personal advantages, and does not come cheap. What the position also allows is that the person may stay in his home country and represent the interests of a foreign country and deal in its exports.