WARSAW (Reuters) -The speaker of Poland's upper house of parliament on Friday called on the government to come clean regarding what it knew about an escalating cash for visas scandal that could derail a re-election campaign centred around the issue of migration.
The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party have put accusations that the opposition is soft on illegal migration at the heart of their campaign to win a third term in office, including questions on the topic in a referendum which will be held on the same day as the Oct. 15 parliamentary elections.
However, the government now faces opposition accusations that it was complicit in a system in which migrants received visas at an accelerated pace without proper checks after paying intermediaries.
"This case is ruining our country's reputation as a responsible member of the democratic community of the free world and jeopardizes our security, therefore it must be explained in detail," Tomasz Grodzki said in a televised address.
While news of the scandal has dominated privately owned media outlets, state TV, which the opposition says has become a mouthpiece for government propaganda, has focused on other issues, such as the spike in migrant arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
As speaker of the upper house of parliament, Grodzki has a legal right to address the nation on public television.
"Today I am addressing you... in the form of a televised message, because it is the only form, the only way for this truth to reach everyone," he said.
State-run news channel TVP Info followed Grodzki's address with an interview with Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who said that Grodzki was exaggerating the scale of the problem and had himself been accused of taking bribes when he worked as a doctor. Grodzki denies these accusations.
Poland's foreign ministry said on Friday it had fired the head of its legal service and cancelled all its contracts for outsourcing visa applications.
The announcement came a day after seven people were charged over the alleged irregularities in granting work visas and two weeks after anti-corruption officers looking into the scandal searched the ministry and the Deputy Foreign Minister was also dismissed.
PiS has accused the opposition of exaggerating the extent of the issue and suggested some of the problems date back to the opposition's time in power.
But in the clearest sign yet that it acknowledged some link, Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik said on Friday the dismissed Deputy Foreign Minister, Piotr Wawrzyk, was "at least politically responsible for the visa issue".
Wawrzyk has not made any public statements over the scandal and his office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Local media reported that Wawrzyk was admitted to Warsaw hospital on Thursday evening. The hospital declined to comment, citing patients' rights to privacy.
On Friday, the foreign ministry said all Polish consulates abroad would be audited, and legal department head Jakub Osajda would be fired, as visa irregularities were being probed.
Reuters could not reach Osajda for comment.
Osajda had also worked as aide to Wawrzyk who was fired on Aug. 31 - the same day as the ministry was searched - with the ministry citing "a lack of satisfactory cooperation".
Opinion polls show PiS in the lead ahead of the election but facing a tough battle to secure an unprecedented third term in office because it may lack the majority needed to govern.
(Reporting by Marek Strzelecki and Alan Charlish, additional reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)