Chinese tourists love Germany's fairytale castles, romantic scenery and beer. Chinese criminals apparently prefer lax visa requirements that have allowed human traffickers to smuggle thousands of illegal immigrants into the European Union. Already rocked by allegations the Ukrainian underworld was moving prostitutes and criminals into the EU via Germany, officials in Berlin are now concerned organised crime in China is abusing a new visa application process at the embassy in Beijing to bring unprecedented numbers of people to Europe illegally. Since September last year, Chinese tourist-visa applicants no longer have to be interviewed by embassy staff. Instead authorised travel agencies have the power to issue visas. A sharp spike in the number of visas granted in Beijing has set off alarm bells in Berlin. 'Already after the first experiences using this procedure there is the fear that visas could be issued under false pretences leading to abuse on a massive scale,' German Deputy Foreign Minster Juergen Chrobog wrote in a leaked letter to the Interior Ministry. Last year, more than 220,000 Chinese received a German visa - more than the total number of visas granted by the entire EU the year before. Mr Chrobog noted over 15,000 visas were allotted in only a matter of weeks after the agreement easing visa requirements between China and 13 EU states went into effect. Germany was the first European country to implement the so-called Approved Destination Status (ADS) for private Chinese tourists in February 2003. But last September ADS was applied to all EU countries party to the Schengen Agreement, which did away with border checks for much of western Europe. The new rules allow a Chinese tourist with a German visa to travel from Finland to Spain. But German security authorities worry that, by no longer requiring potential visitors to be interviewed, the country has unwittingly become a transit point for smuggling people into the EU. According to a report obtained by the German newspaper Die Welt, German state police are concerned that triads have been 'placed in key positions at travel agencies to support trafficking'. The prospect that Chinese gangsters have infiltrated travel agencies authorised to issue visas has increased the immense political pressure on Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who last week admitted he had 'made mistakes' in not responding quickly enough to allegations of visa irregularities in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin and Germany's embassy in Beijing have begun to crack down. 'At our suggestion, we have decided to monitor the situation on a monthly basis with our Schengen partners,' a ministry spokesman said. 'The ADS agreement has mechanisms for suspending or eliminating travel agencies. That has already been done in both cases.' Chinese tour operators, who would rather be concentrating on showing the wonders of the speed limit-free autobahn or Bavarians in lederhosen, feel the increased scrutiny is the consequence of a politically motivated witch-hunt at their expense. 'Smuggling groups will do whatever they can to get people into Germany or the EU. That has nothing to do with how the visas are allocated,' said Chen Mang, chief executive of the Chinese-German CAISSA Touristic agency in Hamburg.