The story of possible corruption in the EU, the ties of Polish authorities with the Russians, and new threats to Ukraine. Just fighting means living…
In Ukraine and Poland, a scandal has been going on for five months over a tender for the selection of a company that will help Polish consulates to issue visas for Ukrainian labor migrants for the next three years. The story involves large international companies, including those in the United States, but for some reason, it has not yet been widely covered.
The Ukrainian edition of Kommentare reports [https://comments.ua/ua/blog/vizovaya-mina-1247.html] that back in June, the Polish Foreign Ministry announced the winner of an alliance consisting of TLScontact of the French group Teleperformance and the Polish Personnel Service. This tandem managed to bypass the world leader – VFS. Although Personnel Service has never been involved in visas, it specializes in finding workers in Ukraine for Polish companies.
As part of Teleperformance, visa services are provided by TLScontact. It says it has 150 visa centers in 90 countries, two-thirds of which are open to visa applications from one country, the United Kingdom. VFS has almost 25 times more visa centers – 3.5 thousand in 143 countries. TLS has 7 government clients, VFS has 62. The former issues 4 million visas a year, the latter under € 30 million. The French-Polish consortium’s offer of € 33.6 million was € 3.6 million cheaper. But it seems that the task of saving Poland’s budget was not.
For example, the price of the Greek GVCW was 12.9 million Euros better than the TLScontact – Personnel Service. The company has more than 70 visa centers in 11 countries and a unique technology for submitting documents online, which allows you to optimize processes and save costs. However, for the first time, the tender commission found the proposal too cheap and rejected it, citing the relevant clause of the law on public procurement.
Indian BLS International Services also lost to the French and Poles, although it gave a better price. The company has been operating in the market for 16 years. It is one of the three world leaders, works for 46 governments, and has offices in 66 countries. Its price offer is 27.3 million Euros, which is 6.3 million Euros better than the winners. But this participant was also removed from the distance due to the alleged inconsistency of his documents with the basic requirements of the terms of reference. Will the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) be able to help Poland honestly choose a visa operator in Ukraine?
Another bidder is French CAPAGO, a visa operator in France and Italy with ten years of experience. It is represented in 10 countries. The company was ready to work for 32.9 million Euros – 0.7 million Euros cheaper than TLScontact – Personnel Service. The company has already won the TLS: in 2017, it was postponed from visas to France to Azerbaijan. But this candidate was rejected due to a lack of experience. Of the possible 28 points, he is given 0.
Then the “best price” was in TLScontact – Personnel Service. Although the commission was not embarrassed by the consortium’s willingness to provide some of the services for free (dumping is a common charity).
Everything written gives reason to say that it is not the amounts requested by the company, and there are suspicions of agreements and schemes in the organization of the tender. It seems strange that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the only Polish company that has no qualifications, but is winning thanks to its partner, which is not a leader in this field and has not provided the best price compared to competitors. What kind of company is this?
Friends of the Prime Minister
Personnel Service employs Ukrainians abroad. His appearance in the visa tender was unexpected. This is how businesses operate, with some specializing in work visas and others having information on where labor is needed. The market for employee brokerage services is highly competitive. Thousands of companies are registered in Poland and Ukraine. One of them can now gain access to all the personal information of migrant workers and the ability to influence the issuance of visas, which makes it, in essence, a monopolist with significant competitive advantages. Here we see a clear conflict of interest.
It is also necessary to analyze whether this tender violates the Directive of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU 2014/24 / EU of 26 February 2014 on public procurement. This document requires that the tender commission treat all participants equally and not benefit from the victory of a particular company. But according to Polish media, Personnel Service is in the sphere of interest of the odious businessman Tomasz Misiak, who is a friend of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and is known for a number of scandals, including attempts to use Polish budget money for his companies.
What can the authorities benefit from issuing visas by “their” campaign? Well, for example, theoretically such businessmen can direct a part of the means earned on tenders on the financing of elections for “friendly” politicians. The next election campaign in Poland is not so far in 2023 – to the parliament. And you need to prepare for it next year.
Experts warn that the participation of a recruiting company in the visa tender threatens a monopoly and attempts to make money on migrant workers: commissions, optional fees, and services, imposition of certain banks and insurance companies.
The fate of ordinary Ukrainians and the size of a piece of cake
About 1.5 million Ukrainians come to Poland every year. The vast majority are looking for work. Ukrainians – according to a study by Pavel Strzelecki, Jakub Growiec, and Robert Wyszynski of the National Bank of Poland, published in the World Economy Review – provided 13 percent of Poland’s GDP growth in 2013-2018 [https://wiadomosci.wp.pl/wszystkie-chwyty-dozwolone-ostra-walka-o-obsluge-ukraincow-i-gore-pieniedzy-6693338645912224a?nil=&src01=f1e45&src01=f1e45&src01=f1e45&src02=isgf&src02=isgf&src02=isgf]. In many cities, every tenth worker is a citizen of Ukraine, wrote Jacek P. Echo, President of the Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce, former Minister of Economy and Minister of Economy and Labor in the governments of Leszek Miller and Marek Belka.
The Ukrainian segment of the recruitment market in Poland is estimated at $ 500 million. Now the Misiak group controls up to five percent of it, according to rough estimates. This is due to the fact that almost half of employees go to Poland through acquaintances, and do not pay employment companies. Admission to visas will allow you to consolidate the business in a few years in one structure. The next step will probably be the need to guarantee a recruiter when obtaining a work visa to get rid of the “initiative” of Polish companies that dare to hire Ukrainians who turned to them for advice from acquaintances, directly, rather than through recruitment agencies. Although the positive role of companies is to find employees, no one denies it, but with competition between them.
Ukrainian media reported on protests by migrant workers near the embassies and consulates of the Republic of Poland in various cities. On the eve of President Andrzej Duda’s visit to Kyiv on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence in August, the police prevented such action [http://moygrad.kiev.ua/2021/08/24/policiya-sorvala-miting-u-posolstva-polshi-v-zashitu-prav-zarobitchan/]. To understand why peaceful actions against the visa tender are banned in Ukraine, we should talk about Tomasz Misiak.
Who is Tomasz Misiak and what threat can he pose ?
In July, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Polska linked Tomasz Misiak to a dubious visa tender in an article entitled “Former Senator of the Civic Platform and the Visa Scandal.” [https://www.gazetapolska.pl/25662-byly-senator-po-i-skandal-wizowy-kto-wyda-wizy-ukraincom]
Misiak, co-founder, and owner of Work Service, which, among other things, used the loans of BZ WBK bank at the time when its president was the current Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Dziennik Gazeta Prawna wrote that Work Service in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century was considered one of the most promising HR companies in Europe. The continuous crisis – first image and then financial – came after it became clear that the company had signed a contract with Agencja Rozwoju Przemysłu. The trouble is that Tomasz Misiak was then a senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on National Economy. It was believed that he had signed a contract with his company. Although further investigation revealed no breach of contract, Misiak’s political career failed.
Mr. Misiak’s partners are Mr. Sofianos and Mr. Christodoulou. The American Greeks operating in Russia know each other well and have worked closely with a certain Kirill Dmitriev, a high-ranking bodyguard for Vladimir Putin’s money. Dmitriev met with Trump’s men on behalf of Putin – and did so with the help of Andrei Skoch, who may be close to Russia’s Solntsevsky criminal group.
Several high-profile scandals in Poland have been linked to the Misiak, including cocaine parties. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Polish investigative journalist Tomasz Pentek from 2019. [https://opinie.wp.pl/tajemnice-morawieckiego-tomasz-piatek-dla-wp-polski-premier-ma-powiazania-z-rosyjskimi-sluzbami-6378847089796737a?nil=&src01=f1e45&src01=f1e45&src01=f1e45&src02=isgf&src02=isgf&src02=isgf] “Let the Misiak sue me. If he does, he will join a company of people associated with the solar mafia who have also tried to sue me. Mr. Misiak ‘s connections are quite obvious. He owns Work Service, which has only recently lost its Russian subsidiary. This is a huge business. Coincidentally, Misiak’s Russian affiliate cooperated with all 5,000 stores owned by Mikhail Friedman, the largest oligarch linked to the Solntsev mafia net, the most influential Russian criminal group founded by the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia) and operating in Poland. “, – writes Piontek.
As for Moravetsky, a very good friend of Misiak, he is also pragmatic about Russia. Prime Minister Cornel Moravetsky’s father has begun making public pro-Kremlin and pro-Putin statements. We know what Mateusz Morawiecki actually talked about with Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk in 2016: how to trade with Putin, bypassing sanctions that hinder trade with Russia. The Moravetsky family is closely connected not only by family but also by political relations. The son sponsored his father through various strange financial transactions. When the father calls for friendship with Putin, the son calls for friendship with the European Union, but it just seems so. In fact, it simply throws empty, common slogans about Poland in the heart of Europe. At the same time, it compromises the EU’s policy of punishing Russia for its attack on Ukraine. In addition, he is trying to reach an agreement with Lukashenko to trade with the Eurasian Union: with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
There are risks of Russian intervention in relation to TLScontact again
Russian espionage practice: the St. Petersburg Mole is a Mole and will remain
According to media reports, the FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia) had previously infiltrated the TLScontact visa center system and recruited an employee. This may have helped Petrov and Boshirov obtain British visas (those who carried out the attack with chemical weapons in the UK in 2018). In 2016, the Russian FSB allegedly forced an employee of the TLScontact visa center, which helps Russians obtain visas to the United Kingdom, to cooperate, and also infiltrated the center’s internal systems [https://meduza.io/feature/2018/11/16/fsb-pronikla-v-sistemy-vizovogo-tsentra-tlscontact-i-zaverbovala-sotrudnika-vozmozhno-eto-pomoglo-petrovu-i-boshirovu-poluchit-britanskie-vizy]. This was reported in detail by Bellingcat and The Insider in part of their study on GRU officers Anatoly Chepiza (“Ruslan Boshirov”) and Alexander Mishkin (“Alexander Petrov”), accused of assassinating English spy Sergei Skripal. According to Mitrofanov (name changed), the FSB at that time already had access to all video cameras inside the visa center through the SORM-2 system and also had diagrams of the internal computer network, which it received from TLS in the process of interaction with this visa center on the issue of personal data storage.
The actions of the Russians pose a real threat, and any allegations of links between company executives and intelligence agencies or the Russian intelligence-led mafia must be investigated and the citizens protected. The lack of reaction from the Polish side does not mean that the SBU (The Security Service of Ukraine) should also be silent, but on the contrary – to act decisively and not allow the transfer of data into the hands of the FSB and GRU.
Opportunities of Kyiv and the West
Meanwhile, the story continues. The Polish National Appeals Chamber considered the bidders’ complaints and decided to return the Greek firm GVCW. On September 30, the Polish Foreign Ministry declared her the winner of the tender after a recount. But now the complaint was filed by Personnel Service. Experts do not rule out that the Polish Foreign Ministry will do everything to return the victory of the company of the second Polish Prime Minister. However, the competent authorities of Ukraine and other states have a say here.
The Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine may draw attention to the situation. The competition authority can analyze the Ukrainian market of employment mediation services in Poland and control the work of the Ukrainian company Viza Staff, through which the French-Polish consortium will operate. The State Consumer Inspectorate can more carefully check the observance of consumer rights. Moreover, the Viza Staff team from Kamianskyi, Dnipropetrovsk region, are the same people that Ukrainians complained about because of the quality of employment services in Poland.
The secret services should additionally check the consortium’s environment and pass this information to the Republic of Poland with a demand to bring the perpetrators to justice as those that threaten national security. Corrupt ties between Poland’s ruling elites cannot undermine the security of both countries by giving access to confidential information to Russians, who will once again strike at a weak spot, using the situation to worsen relations between Kyiv and Warsaw. The situation is quite serious: the recruitment of our fellow citizens abroad, blackmail, political discrediting, penetration into internal systems – these are the things that await us soon if Kyiv does not intervene decisively in the situation. This is not about a market mechanism, but about the threat to national security posed by the biggest sponsor of terrorism and a vicious violator of international law, unfortunately, our neighbor, Russia.
We should not forget that the United States can also intervene in the situation through the Anti-Corruption Law Abroad (FCPA). After all, Teleperformance has companies registered in the United States. The British can do the same through the UKBA on the same grounds. Especially citizens of the United States and Great Britain work in Teleperformance. And do not pretend that the French company has nothing to do with the tender. If the actions of Poles in the visa tender find such traces of corruption, then in fact Personnel Service can be seen as agents of a French consortium that can earn millions of dollars. Then the company faces huge fines and reputation problems. And for Ukraine, this will be a good signal that the corruption schemes that the EU seems to be trying to use will not work.
Government Relations expert
Ukrainian political scientist
A Lane Kirkland Scholarship Program Fellow 2021/2022
CEO IAPSS Ukraine
Assistant Researcher of the Academy of Political Sciences of Ukraine.