Czech intelligence agency BIS investigates visa system

Czech Position has uncovered details of illicit payment scams for registration in the Czech visa application system Visapoint

Society|Foreign Affairs
Martin Shabu | 29.11.2011

The Visapoint system for processing applications for Czech visas has been targeted by organized crime groups who have managed to effectively hijack the system and are taking payments to register foreign applicants. Many would-be applicants attempting to apply for a Czech visa according to the prescribed Visapoint procedure have found the system completely booked for months on end and have no choice to pay middlemen — if they can afford it.  

The Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs (MZV) has acknowledged that the police have investigated the illegal registration of visa applicants into the Visapoint system and has also revealed to Czech Position that the firm AbsolutNET administrates the system for an annual fee of Kč 200,000. According to a reliable source, the Czech counterespionage agency, the Security Information Service (BIS), is now looking into the matter.

The MZV launched the Visapoint system two years ago to facilitate applications for long-term visas valid beyond 90 days, and for temporary and permanent residency permits. The system was also intended to cut out the “selling” of places in queues in front of Czech embassies and consulates — a widespread practice in countries of the former Soviet Union and the Balkans.

Despite the fact that the Foreign Ministry has been informed about the scam numerous times, the practice is reportedly continuing unabatedIt transpires, however, that illicit gains are still being extracted from visa applicants, only the practice has shifted to the virtual sphere. Three Czech businessmen informed Czech Position that many applicants only manage to get an interview for a visa application at a Czech diplomatic mission if they pay conmen who then register them in Visapoint. Despite the fact that the MZV has been informed about the scam numerous times, the practice is reportedly continuing unabated.

At present the Visapoint system is supposed to serve visa applicants in Albania, Belarus, Bosnia–Herzegovina, China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The system is due to be launched in Russia as of the new year. Applicants in these countries for long-term Czech visas and residency permits must register via Visapoint for an interview at a Czech embassy or consulate.  

Registration for €500

In order to apply for a Czech visa where Visapoint is in place, applicants must first register in a virtual queue at the site www.visapoint.eu. However, after entering one’s personal details the system announces that it has reached full capacity. In reality, the system has been hijacked by IT specialists working for crime syndicates who then contact the would-be visa applicant with an offer to register them in the system for a fee. Those who pay the illicit fee gain a place in the virtual queue.

The three businessmen from who notified the MZV and spoke to Czech Position, say crime syndicates typically demand up to €500 to secure registration. Last year around 10,000 long-term visas to the Czech Republic, or 43 percent of the total, were issued using Visapoint. If most of the applications for those visas were registered for an illegal fee of €500, the illegal gains would reach around Kč 100 million a year.

One of the entrepreneurs who repeatedly informed the MZV about the problem is Zdeněk Okůnek, who runs an agency for placing foreigners on study and professional training programs in the Czech Republic. “The free places that appeared in the system in nighttime hours disappeared in a split second, and it was not possible to register despite the fact that would-be applicants organized non-stop monitoring of the system for around three months,” Okůnek told Czech Position. ‘They pocket unimaginable amounts for the entries, depending on the region [where the applicant lives] and the type of visa.’

“We then began to look to see if there was another way of registering and found out that there’s a group of people who provide registration commercially. They pocket unimaginable amounts for the entries, depending on the region [where the applicant lives] and the type of visa.”

“It works as follows: The conmen create fictitious profiles, and when somebody responds, they remove one of those profiles and immediately fill the vacant place with the genuine applicant,” Okůnek explains, adding that otherwise applicants can only sit for hours on end and repeatedly click on the registration button in Visapoint and hope for a miracle.

Okůnek, who worked in the Czech diplomatic corps for 12 years, including as a consul in Mongolia and as culture and education attaché in Moscow, says the illegal software which automatically books vacant spaces in Visapoint was developed by Russian-speaking graduates from Czech schools and universities. According to Czech Position’s information, a number of organized crime groups are involved.

Providers in denial

‘We have investigated possible attacks on the system, but because we didn’t uncover a hacker attack, the investigation was closed’The statuary representative of the firm AbsolutNET, Zdeněk Plachý, claims the Visapoint system is secure from abuse. “In the new version of Visapoint that we’ve created, we don’t know of any ‘illegal’ entries. When developing the Visapoint system we used the latest findings and processes in the area of IT security. Obviously, I can’t give you exact details,” Plachý told Czech Position via email.

Nevertheless, in the past AbsolutNET came under fire for providing weak security for the websites of ex-Prague mayor Pavel Bém (Civic Democrats, ODS) and President Václav Klaus after their sites were taken down by cyber attacks.

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I am very, very impressed with the journalism found in English on Czech Position. These stories are entirely unique to your journal but well researched and uncover some very interesting details. I think Czech Position will be a great help in creating a more transparent operation of government offices and many other businesses. Keep up the good work! Nathan

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