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Cyprus

AG supports state officials in dodgy student visa affair

A delicate balance: Attorney-general Costas Clerides

By George Psyllides
Attorney-general Costas Clerides said on Thursday potential irregularities or criminal offences in relation with documents used by Bangladeshi nationals to acquire student visas and enter Cyprus could not be blamed on government officials on the island.
The issue became public a couple of months ago after it transpired that the authenticity of the paperwork used by some 800 students from Bangladesh was dubious.
It has since become one of several points of conflict between Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos and Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides.
Hasikos had granted the students entry, saying they had been given the benefit of the doubt because authorities in Cyprus could not confirm whether they were forged.
A police investigation found serious evidence that put the medical certificates and bank accounts into doubt, according to a statement issued by Clerides on Thursday.
Based on EU directives, students from third countries must provide, among other things, health certificates and financial statements proving they have enough money to cover their living expenses during their studies.
However, any irregularities or criminal offences had been committed in Bangladesh, the AG said, and an investigation would be difficult, highly problematic, time consuming and with a dubious outcome.
And since the documents were accepted and certified by Cyprus’ consulate in the country, their acceptance by officials on the island does not seem to constitute an offence, he said.
In light of this, and based on the police recommendation it was decided to terminate the investigation and take all necessary measures to authenticate such documents from the country in question beforehand to avoid such occurrences in the future, the AG said.
Hasikos suggested that the AG’s decision was his vindication. But in a written statement issued by Michaelides on Wednesday in response to an all out attack launched by the minister, the auditor-general detailed his criticisms of the minister’s handling of the affair.
Michaelides said the migration department had located counterfeit documents in a number of student applications from Bangladesh.
In a June 4 letter, the police informed the department that the students in question had been placed on an alert list and that they would not be allowed entry into the island, Michaelides said.
But they were eventually let in, as it transpired “on the decision of the interior minister” who, citing public interest, gave them the benefit of the doubt.
The auditor said it was not unusual that there was no success in substantiating criminal offences in a foreign country.
However, the police found forged documents – the ones that could not be found according to the minister.
“What was found was that procedures were full of holes and they have changed after our intervention,” Michaelides said.
“This is what the minister should have done. Send the matter to the AG and introduce the proper procedures. Instead, he ignored the existence of forged documents and opted for unlawful procedures that are being abandoned now.”

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