Category Archives: Court Cases

Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

– Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

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US Embassy Yemen: How to Catch the Visa Malfeasance Pokemons? Very Quietly.

– Domani Spero

 

 

Via NY Daily News:

An employee at the embassy may have given out more than 50 sham visas to people who falsely claimed they needed to enter the U.S. to attend an oil industry conference in Texas, according to unsealed papers in Brooklyn Federal Court. The feds learned the Yemeni citizens never went to the conference. It was not clear if the fraudulent visas were connected to terrorism. The feds have uncovered a breach of security inside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen that led to bogus visas being issued, the Daily News has learned.

 

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Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

If these visas were issued at the embassy, these are authentic visas, using real foils –issued under fraudulent reasons. What are the typical types of visa fraud? Below according to state.gov:

  • Presenting false documents to apply for a visa
  • Concealing facts that would disqualify one from getting a visa, like a criminal history in the alien’s home country
  • The sale, trafficking, or transfer of otherwise legitimate visas
  • Misrepresenting the reasons for requiring a visa
  • Counterfeiting, forgery, or alteration of a visa

We must also add, procurement of authentic visa by malfeasance — bribing a consular employee.  For more on visa security, read Fred Burton’s Getting Back to the Basics here.

DSS Special Agent Bert Seay’s filed a court statement at the Eastern District of New York supporting probable cause to arrest one of those 50 individuals issued visas in Yemen:

In August 2014, DSS received information from the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General (“DHS-OIG”) that DHS-OIG had received an anonymous tip that Yemeni national employees working in the non-immigrant visa unit of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen were helping other Yemeni nationals to fraudulently procure non—immigrant visas in exchange for money. Based on information provided by DHS-OIG, DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.

DSS identified the visa applications as suspicious because, in the applications, the Yemeni visa applicants purported to be employed by Yemeni oil companies and stated that their reason for traveling to the United States was to attend an oil industry conference called the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas.  However, investigation by DSS determined that, in most instances, the Yemeni oil companies listed as employers on the visa applications were fictitious and, further, that the visa applicants did not, in fact, attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” after traveling to the United States.

The DS agent statement includes a caveat that the “complaint is to set forth only those facts necessary to establish probable cause to arrest,” but does not include “all the relevant facts and circumstances.” The complaint also notes that “DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.”

The allegations involved Yemeni national employees,more than one. Suspicious cases involved over 50 visas, and law enforcement got one arrest. Alert is now broadcasted on all channels. So, how do you catch the Visa Malfeasance and Visa Fraudster Pokemons? It’s not like you can now pretend to send a local employee to FSI for training then arrest him or her upon arrival at Dulles like this or this.

Also, for non-State readers, here is what the regs say about visa referrals:

“A referral is a written request, maintained permanently, to advocate for, or otherwise assist, your contacts at post in the visa application process. Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” (See 9 FAM, Appendix K, Exhibit I – pdf).

The news report actually gave us more questions than answers. Visa issuance is a specific responsibility of a Consular Officer; it cannot be issued by just any embassy official or any embassy employee. The processing and issuance process is now automated and requires specific login credentials; it’s not like anyone can just stamp a visa foil on a passport with a stamp pad.

And when did foreign national embassy employees started issuing visa referrals? Only qualified and approved individuals may make visa referrals. But here’s the thing – the regs are clear, to qualify as a visa referring officer you must:

(1) Be a U.S. citizen, direct hire, encumbering an NSDD-38 authorized position or serving in a long-term TDY role (of more than 121 days) in place of a permanently stationed direct hire who falls under Chief of Mission (COM) authority and encumbers an NSDD-38 position as defined by the Human Resources section at post;

(2) Attend a referral briefing with the consular section; and

(3) Submit a signed and dated Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement to the consular section.

Not only that, the chief of section/agency head of the referring officer’s section or agency must approve each referral (and must attend the briefing and sign the compliance document in order to do so). In the absence of a section/agency head or acting head, the Principal Officer (PO) (if at a consulate), or Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), or Ambassador must approve the referral.

So, how is it possible for a Yemeni employee in this case (who has not been identified publicly or charged), to submit 50 visa referrals is seriously perplexing.

The complaint identified one defendant as ABDULMALEK MUSLEH ABDULLAH ALZOBAIDI. He allegedly submitted a visa application dated March 8, 2014 presented to an in-person interview with “a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa,Yemen on April 14, 2014.”  In his visa application, the defendant allegedly stated, among other things, that he was a “manager” of “Jaber Oil Company.” The defendant allegedly further provided the Consular Officer with a business card for Jaber Oil Company. The defendant also allegedly stated in his visa application that the purpose of his trip to the United States was to attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas for approximately 15 days.

According to court docs, in September 2014, DSS agents received information from the Yemeni Ministry of Commerce and Information confirming that the Jaber Oil Company is not a registered or legitimate company in Yemen. That Houston conference is an annual event.

Since this individual has now been charged, he will have his day in a New York court but this brings up an even troubling scenario.

According to 2009 unclassified cable published by WikiLeaks, Yemen security conditions prevent the embassy’s Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) from performing field investigations so post rely almost exclusively on telephone investigations to combat fraud.  So, if there’s a universe with 50 suspicious cases, how many were investigated by FPU prior to visa issuance? This would have been a pretty standard practice in a high fraud post like Yemen.

In a 2010 inspection review of US Embassy Sana’a, OIG inspectors noted (pdf) that “Because of staffing limitations, Embassy Sanaa is not doing the required annual reviews of its visa referral system. This important internal control is mandated by 9 FAM Appendix K 105(d). Not regularly reviewing referrals deprives consular management of important information on the adjudication process and potentially improper behavior.”

That report, although old, also noted at that time that nonimmigrant visa processing is “a relatively small part of the post’s consular workload, and it is managed successfully by one part-time officer.”

Embassy Sana’a has suffered from staffing and security limitations for many years. We can’t imagine that the staffing situation at post has grown any better since that 2010 report. Has it?

And this makes one wonder — if Sanaa is under “ordered departure”and has limited staff, why do we insist on processing visas there?  Embassy Sana’a did not respond to our inquiry on this case but says on its website that “requests for U.S. tourist and business visa appointments continues to grow.”  Also that “Visa services are an important Embassy function, and the robust demand for tourist and business visas reflects the strong continuing relationship between Yemen and the United States.”

The continuing relationship is so strong that no one has been arrested for the multiple attacks of the U.S. mission in Yemen.

According to AQAP, it has targeted US interests in Yemen three times in the last 60 days alone: shelling of compound on September 27, targeting Ambassador Tueller with IEDs on November 6, and the detonation of two IEDs on post’s northern gate on November 27. The attack last week reportedly resulted in embassy guard death/s; this has not been mentioned, confirmed, or denied by the State Department. This news has not made it to the front pages, so you know they will try again.

via UKFCO

via UKFCO

On a related note, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all travel to Yemen and strongly urge British nationals to leave the country.

Is this what we should call expeditionary consular diplomacy now?

 


 

 

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Tomorrow’s News Today: This Week Could Potentially Be a Heck of a Mess!

– Domani Spero

 

 

The Googles tell me that For the Record is an investigative news magazine on TheBlaze. The show was created by Glenn Beck to “restore the truth” in journalism. We’ve never watched it but just so you know, the show is coming back this week.  It has released two three teasers on YouTube and Twitter; one on September 10, a second one on September 15 and another one on YouTube today.  All flashy clips alleging cover-ups and corruption in the State Department. If you’re an old time Foggy Bottom watcher, you will recognize many of the faces and the names. in these clips.

 

 

 

Here is one posted today on YouTube:

 

It appears from the short clips that this is related to the Richard Higbie case (see Higbie v. Kerry) and the still unresolved? non-public? ongoing? investigation on the CBS News allegations (see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

In November last year, the OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

This past spring, we’ve revisited this investigation without much success. (see Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?). Also  State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations and State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

Today, State/OIG told us that as per OIG policy, the office has no comments to make on the status of any possible, pending, on-going or future investigation.

So upfront we must tell you that we don’t know the disposition of these investigations. What we know is that the show will go on tomorrow, September 17 at 8 pm. Due to the titillating and salacious contents of the CBS allegations, we suspect that this will attract enough eyeballs to make it to next day’s news cycle.

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U.S. Court Awards Damages to Victims of August 7, 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we posted the State Department’s Albright archive of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.  Yes, the interesting thing about that is how 16 years later, the names, the response, the briefings and the narrative are ever so familiar.

The twin-embassy bombings cost the lives of over 220 persons and wounded more than 4,000 others. Twelve American USG employees and family members, and 32 Kenyan and 8 Tanzanian USG employees, were among those killed.

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U.S. Embassy Nairobi employees joined Charge d’Affaires Isiah Parnell for a wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the victims of the 1998 Embassy bombing in Nairobi. August 7, 2014

In December 2011, U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled (PDF via Legal Times) that the governments of Sudan and Iran will be liable for monetary damages to victims of suicide bombings at U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998. According to Judge Bates’ 2011 order (PDF via Legal Times) , a special master was appointed to figure how much in damages the plaintiffs will receive.  The Court previously ruled that the foreign-national U.S.-government-employee victims have a federal cause of action, while their foreign-national family members have a cause of action under D.C. law.

On July 25, 2014, the Court entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) on several related cases—brought by victims of the bombings and their families—against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (collectively “defendants”) for their roles in supporting, funding, and otherwise carrying out the attacks. The combined cases involve over 600 plaintiffs. The awards range from $1.5 million for severe emotional injuries to $7.5 million for severe injuries and permanent impairment. The total award is reportedly $8 billion.

Judge John Bates in his ruling  (see Wamai, et al.,v. Republic of Sudan, et.al. (pdf) (Civil Action No. 08-1349 (JDB) writes that the 1998 embassy bombings shattered the lives of all plaintiffs.

[T]heir personal stories reveals that, even more than fifteen years later, they each still feel the horrific effects of that awful day. Damages awards cannot fully compensate people whose lives have been torn apart; instead, they offer only a helping hand. But that is the very least that these plaintiffs are owed. Hence, it is what this Court will facilitate.

 

 

Below are some of the embassy employees and their injuries cited in court documents:

  • Many plaintiffs suffered little physical injury—or none at all—but have claims based on severe emotional injuries because they were at the scene during the bombings or because they were involved in the extensive recovery efforts immediately thereafter. Those plaintiffs will be awarded $1.5 million. See id. Typical of this category is Edward Mwae Muthama, who was working at the offsite warehouse for the United States Embassy in Kenya when the bombings occurred. Report of Special Master John Aldock Concerning Edward Muthama [ECF No. 93] at 4. Shortly after the attack, Muthama headed to the blast site and spent days assisting with the gruesome recovery efforts; to this day he suffers from emotional distress resulting from his time administering aid to survivors and handling the dead bodies (and body parts) of his murdered colleagues. Id.
  • Other plaintiffs suffered minor injuries (such as lacerations and contusions caused by shrapnel), accompanied by severe emotional injuries. They will be awarded $2 million. Typical is Emily Minayo, who was on the first floor of the United States Embassy in Nairobi at the time of the bombing. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Emily Minayo [ECF No. 162] at 4. She was thrown to the floor by the force of the blast, but she was lucky enough to escape with only lacerations that were later sewn up during a brief hospital stay. Id. She continues, however, to suffer from severe emotional damage resulting from her experience. Id.
  • To those who suffered more serious physical injuries, such as broken bones, head trauma, some hearing or vision impairment, or impotence, the Court will award $2.5 million. Typical is Francis Maina Ndibui, who was in the United States Embassy in Nairobi during the bombing. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Francis Maina Ndibui [ECF No. 152] at 4. Ndibui became temporarily trapped under debris that fell from the ceiling, and he suffered minor lacerations similar to Minayo’s. Id. Also as a result of the bombing, he continues to suffer from partial vision impairment, which has persisted even through reparative surgery. Id. He also suffers from severe emotional damage resulting from his experience. Id.
  • Plaintiffs with even more serious injuries—including spinal injuries not resulting in paralysis, more serious shrapnel injuries, head trauma, or serious hearing impairment—will be awarded $3 million. Typical is Victor Mpoto, who was at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam on the day of the bombing. Report of Special Master Jackson Williams Concerning Victor Mpoto [ECF No. 136] at 3. The blast knocked him to the ground and covered him in debris, causing minor physical injuries. Id. Because he was only about fifteen meters away from the blast, he suffered severe hearing loss in both ears that continues to this day and for which he continues to receive treatment. Id. He also suffers from severe emotional damage resulting from his experience. Id. at 4.
  • Those who suffered from injuries similar to those plaintiffs who are generally awarded the “baseline” award of $5 million (involving some mix of serious hearing or vision impairment, many broken bones, severe shrapnel wounds or burns, lengthy hospital stays, serious spinal or head trauma, and permanent injuries) will also be awarded that baseline. See Valore, 700 F. Supp. 2d at 84. Typical is Pauline Abdallah, who was injured in the bombing of the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Stephen Saltzburg Concerning Pauline Abdallah [ECF No. 117] at 3. She was knocked unconscious by the blast, and later spent about a month in the hospital. Id. She suffered severe shrapnel wounds requiring skin grafts, third-degree burns, and two of her fingers were amputated. Id. Shrapnel still erupts from her skin. Id. She also suffered severe hearing loss. Id. Like other plaintiffs who were injured in the bombing, she suffers from severe emotional damage. Id. at 3-4.
  • And for a few plaintiffs, who suffered even more grievous wounds such as lost eyes, extreme burns, severe skull fractures, brain damage, ruptured lungs, or endured months of recovery in hospitals, upward departures to $7.5 million are in order. Livingstone Busera Madahana was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Kenneth Adams Concerning Livingstone Busera Madahana [ECF No. 175] at 4. Shrapnel from the blast completely destroyed his right eye and permanently damaged his left. Id. He suffered a skull fracture and spent months in a coma; his head trauma caused problems with his memory and cognition. Id. “He endured multiple surgeries, skin grafts, physical therapy, vocational rehabilitation, speech and cognitive therapy, and psychotherapy for depression.” Id.
  • Gideon Maritim was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Jackson Williams Concerning Gideon Maritim [ECF No. 222] at 3. The second explosion knocked him unconscious for several hours. Id. at 4 The blast ruptured his eardrums, knocked out several teeth, and embedded metal fragments into his eyes. Id. He also suffered deep shrapnel wounds to his legs and stomach, and his lungs were ruptured. Id. His hearing is permanently impaired, as is his lung function. Id. at 5. And he suffers from chronic back and shoulder pain. Id.
  • Charles Mwaka Mulwa was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Jackson Williams Concerning Charles Mwaka Mulwa [ECF No. 132] at 3. The bomb blast permanently disfigured his skull, ruptured both his eardrums, and embedded glass in his eyes. Id. He continues to suffer from nearly total hearing loss, and his eyesight is permanently diminished. Id. And he suffered from other shrapnel injuries to his head, arms, and legs. Id.
  • Tobias Oyanda Otieno was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Tobias Oyanda Otieno [ECF No. 181] at 4. The blast caused permanent blindness in his left eye, and substantial blindness in his right. Id. He suffered severe shrapnel injuries all over his body, including a particularly severe injury to his hand, which resulted in permanent impairment. Id. His lower back was also permanently damaged, causing continuous pain to this day. Id. He spent nearly a year recovering in hospitals. Id.
  • Moses Kinyua was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Deborah Greenspan Concerning Moses Kinyua [ECF No. 202] at 4. The blast knocked him into a coma for three weeks. Id. His skull was crushed, his jaw was fractured in four places, and he lost his left eye. Id. The head trauma resulted in brain damage. Id. In addition, he suffered from a ruptured eardrum, a detached retina in his right eye, a dislocated shoulder, broken fingers, and serious shrapnel injuries. Id. He was ultimately hospitalized for over six months. Id.
  • Joash Okindo was injured in the blast at the United States Embassy in Nairobi. Report of Special Master Brad Pigott Concerning Joash Okindo [ECF No. 163] at 4. He spent about eight months in hospitals, and was in a coma for the first month because he suffered a skull fracture. Id. at 4-5. He suffered from severe shrapnel injuries to his head, back, legs, and hands, and the blast fractured bones in both of his legs. Id. at 4.
  • Each of these plaintiffs also suffered severe emotional injuries. The injuries suffered by these plaintiffs are comparable to those suffered by plaintiffs who were awarded $7–$8 million in Peterson II. See 515 F. Supp. 2d at 55-57 (e.g., Michael Toma, who suffered “various cuts from shrapnel, internal bleeding in his urinary system, a deflated left lung, and a permanently damaged right ear drum”). Hence, the Court will award each of these plaintiffs $7.5 million for pain and suffering. The Court adopts the recommendations by special masters of awards consistent with the adjusted guidelines described above, and will adjust inconsistent awards accordingly.

An attorney for hundreds of the East African victims cited the “need to have patience and determination” in collecting approximately $8 billion from Iran and Sudan, acknowledging it is unlikely that the  two governments would make voluntarily payments for the award ordered by the U.S. court. The lawyers are reportedly looking at Iranian and Sudanese assets seized in the United States or other countries as a source for the court-ordered payments.

 

Related documents ( all pdfs):

07/25/2014 Civil Action No. 2008-1380 ONSONGO et al v. REPUBLIC OF SUDAN et al
Doc No. 233 (memorandum opinion) by Judge John D. Bates

07/25/2014 Civil Action No. 2008-1361 AMDUSO et al v. REPUBLIC OF SUDAN et al
Doc No. 255 (memorandum opinion) by Judge John D. Bates

07/25/2014 Civil Action No. 2008-1349 WAMAI et al v. REPUBLIC OF SUDAN et al
Doc No. 246 (memorandum opinion) by Judge John D. Bates

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US Embassy Colombia: DEA Employee/Spouse Plead Guilty to False Statements in Kidnapping Hoax

– Domani Spero

Via USDOJ:

Nydia L. Perez and John A. Soto, both 44, of Haymarket, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials in federal court on Friday, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director for International Operations John Boles of the FBI.

According to the plea agreement, in December 2013, Perez, an employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and her husband Soto, a private contractor in the United States Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, designed and executed a hoax with the intention of defrauding the United States Embassy in Bogotá.   As part of the hoax, Perez and Soto fabricated a plot to kidnap minors who are United States citizens.

According to court filings, Perez and Soto sent, through electronic mail and courier services, information about a purported threat to the safety of minor United States citizens in Bogotá.   Perez and Soto added detailed descriptions of the targeted United States citizens, including information about their whereabouts and daily routines.   Perez and Soto included photographs of the citizens in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat, and attempted to implicate innocent individuals in the kidnapping plot.   Perez and Soto made numerous false representations to law enforcement and security officials in furtherance of the fabricated kidnapping plot.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman-Jackson is scheduled for Aug. 21, 2014.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Legal Attaché in Bogotá and the Extra-Territorial Squad of the FBI Miami Field Office.   Also participating in the investigation were the DEA, the U.S. Embassy Bogota Regional Security Office, and the U.S. Embassy Bogota Force Protection Detail.   The Department is grateful for the assistance of the Colombia National Police Directorate of Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion.

On the Factual Basis for Plea, the government provides the following details:

  • On December 14, 2013, PEREZ and SOTO caused an e-mail to be sent to the American Citizen Services section of the United States Embassy, which described a plan by unnamed individuals to kidnap SOTO’s minor children, who are United States citizens. The e-mail included photos of the minor children engaged in various everyday activities in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat. In furtherance of the hoax, PEREZ and SOTO also mailed a package to the United States Embassy. The package contained a written description of the threat and additional photos of the children, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of the threat.
  • PEREZ met with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) on December 17, 2013 to discuss the kidnapping threat. PEREZ lied to the FBI as to her knowledge of the purported kidnapping plot, stating that the only person she could think of who was capable of creating a kidnapping plot was her family’s doorman, Heder Vargas. PEREZ falsely represented that she and SOTO, as well as SOTO’s minor children, were potential targets of the purported kidnapping plot, although she knew the kidnapping plot was in fact a hoax. During the December 17, 2013 meeting, PEREZ did not inform the FBI that she knew there existed no actual threat to herself, SOTO, or SOTO’s children.

 

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colobia Photo via state.gov

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia
Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

We really don’t get this.  The intention was to defraud the U.S. Embassy in Bogota? How were they doing to do that? Since the U.S. Government cannot participate in developing and implementing a ransom strategy in kidnappings, it follows that ACS Sections do not have hidden money in their vaults.  In any case, whatever was the plan, it didn’t work.

Which made us dig up this section of the FAMeven overseas, kidnapping of U.S. citizens are federal crimes for which the FBI has authority to investigate under the U.S. Criminal Code. And certainly, kidnapping threats against a mission employee/family would be handled beyond the Consular Section.

According to court filings, Count One, Making a Materially False Representation, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2) (a Class D Felony) carries a maximum sentence of five (5) years of imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and a $100 special assessment, a three (3) year term of supervised release, an order of restitution, and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines or restitution not timely made.

Sentencing is scheduled for 8/21/2014 at 10:00 AM in Courtroom 3 before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The case is USA v. PEREZ, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00086-AK and USA v. SOTO, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00087-AK.

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Oh, la vache! U.S. Court on French Embassy’s “transparent ploy” over discrimination case

– Domani Spero

Judge James E. Boasberg of the District Court for the District of Columbia was not happy with the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.. In a court ruling dated April 17, 2014, Judge Boasberg chastised the French Embassy writing that the “defendant may delay these proceedings, but it may not evade trial by means of this transparent ploy”as embassy asserted immunity on the eve of a discrimination trial.

The civil case is between Ashraf-Hassan and the Embassy of France in United States.  The plaintiff is Saima Ashraf-Hassan, a former employee of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and a French citizen who was born in Pakistan. According to court papers, she originally came to the United States to complete research for her Ph.D. in law. After arriving in Washington, Ashraf-Hassan obtained an internship with the French Embassy, which later led to an offer of full-time employment:

During her five years of employment, Ashraf-Hassan alleges that she suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, religion, and pregnancy, all in violation of Title VII. See id. at *2. In addition to claims of unlawful termination, Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment that was permeated by harassment so severe and pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment.
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Evidently dissatisfied with this result and with trial looming a few weeks away, the Embassy now invokes the doctrine of sovereign immunity, claiming that after nearly three years of proceedings before this Court, it retains the power to divest itself of the suit at any time it pleases. See ECF No. 51 (Mot. to Dismiss). While at the outset of this litigation, the Embassy acknowledged that it was not entitled to assert immunity, it also stated – somewhat opaquely – that it “reserve[d] the right to raise its immunity should it be necessary to protect the confidential character of [its governmental] activities.” See ECF No. 11 (prior Mot. to Dismiss) at 1. This time has now come, according to Defendant.

In his memorandum opinion, Judge Boasberg writes:

In May of 2011, Plaintiff Saima Ashraf-Hassan brought this suit, alleging that her employer, the Embassy of France in the United States, had violated Title VII by discriminating against her on account of her national origin, race, religion, and pregnancy. In the intervening years, the parties have conducted discovery, attempted to solve their dispute through mediation, and filed assorted motions and other pleadings. Indeed, Defendant has previously moved to dismiss and has also sought summary judgment, but it has repeatedly failed to convince the Court to deny Plaintiff a trial on her discrimination claims.

Now, three years into this litigation and on the eve of trial, Defendant seeks to secure dismissal by claiming for the first time that the Court no longer has subject-matter jurisdiction. Despite its early concessions to the contrary, the Embassy now suggests that it never fully ceded its sovereign immunity when it hired Ashraf-Hassan or when it willingly entered into this litigation. The Embassy contends that it reserved the right to assert immunity at any time of its choosing and that it has the unfettered ability to walk away whenever it deems the claims to be meritless or the proceedings unfair. It protests, moreover, that this suit is now an affront to its dignity, yet Defendant offers no colorable basis to justify dismissal on sovereign-immunity grounds. This case falls squarely within multiple exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a reality that no amount of invective and indignation can change. Defendant may delay these proceedings, but it may not evade trial by means of this transparent ploy.

Read the case here: Ashraf-Hassan v. Embassy of France in United States Civil Action No. 11-805 (JEB).

 

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US Embassy Ottawa: Canadian Court Sets Aside FSN Sandra McDonald’s $240K Default Judgment For Now

– Domani Spero

Via Ottawa Citizen, a wrongful dismissal case filed by Sandra McDonald, a former Foreign Service National (local employee) of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Sandra McDonald, now in her early 60s, worked at the embassy for nearly 30 years as one of its locally engaged staff. She sued for wrongful dismissal after she was fired in early 2011 while on long-term disability with complex regional pain syndrome.

McDonald’s lawyer, Bijon Roy, said she was “very disappointed” with the judge’s decision and that it might force her to fight the case all over again.

In July 2012, Ontario Superior Court Justice Heidi Polowin issued a default judgment in McDonald’s favour after U.S. officials failed to file a statement of defence or contest the case in court. The embassy had been served notice of the case through Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and was kept informed of the matter on a regular basis. McDonald’s story also received high-profile coverage from Ottawa media, including the Citizen.

In court this week, embassy officials, seeking to overturn the default judgment, said they had “explicable and plausible” reasons for not having responded to McDonald’s lawsuit, and a “good defence” to be made against it. According to court documents, the Americans claimed that they’d “lost the documentation”, “could not open the email attachment”, that the documentation was “inadvertently directed to the wrong office at the State Department”, and that it was “not indexed correctly”.

Superior Court Justice Timothy Ray questioned how U.S. State Department officials could claim not to have been aware of McDonald’s default judgment. “Its embassy apparently failed to see the front page of the Ottawa Citizen (on) Sept. 11, 2012,” the judge commented.
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Ray said he would set aside Polowin’s default judgment on conditions the embassy pay McDonald’s legal costs and put the $240,000 award in a court trust within the next 60 days.

Read in full: U.S. Embassy wins bid to set aside wrongful dismissal judgment.

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Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 Months

– Domani Spero

On November 6, 2013, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  Two women were also charged in the visa fraud-bribery conspiracy:  Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.  On September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The last one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.

On Febraury 4, 2014, court records indicate that the case of ANHDAO T. NGUYEN was “directly reassigned to Calendar Committee as she has been a fugitive for more than 90 days.”

On March 7, 2014, BINH TANG VO was arraigned on Counts 1ss,2ss-14ss,15ss-27ss, and 28ss before Judge John D. Bates. Plea of NOT GUILTY was entered by BINH TANG VO as to all Counts of the Superseding Information.

In the case of  Vietnamese national Truc Tranh Huynh, court records indicate that sentencing was held onFebruary 21, 2014 before Judge John D. Bates as to Ms. Huynh (5) on Count 23s. Defendant was sentenced to Sixteen (16) months of incarceration and Twelve (12) months of Supervised Release; Special Assessment of $100. Defendant committed; commitment issued.  She previously entered a plea agreement in October last year.

According to court records, defendant Hong Vo also pleaded guilty to one count of a criminal information arising out of her participation in a wide spread visa fraud scheme.  The Government’s memorandum in aid of sentencing filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. on the case of Ms. Vo says in part:

 The defendant’s participation in this multi-million dollar scheme implicated both the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, thus, warrants an appropriately strong sentence. The need for proper deterrence is especially important where, as here, individuals could be drawn into a scheme in the hope of procuring a financial windfall. A 16 month sentence would have a real deterrent effect and will serve as a clear warning to anyone tempted to defraud the U.S. State Department’s visa-issuing procedures for financial gain.

Court records indicate that this case had also been resolved:

Sentencing held on 3/7/2014 as to HONG CHAU VO (4), before Judge John D. Bates on Count 1ss: Defendant sentenced to Ten (10) months split sentence: Seven (7) and a half months of incarceration and Two (2) and a half months of Home Detention; Thirty (30) months of Supervised Release. Special Assessment of $100.00. All counts of Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are dismissed as to this defendant. Defendant remains in 3rd Party custody.

On March 10, 2014, defendant Michael T. Sestak submitted a status report on the disposition of his real properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand as part of his plea agreement:

Since the last report filed on January 24, 2014, Mr. Sestak has engaged Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates, to act as his agent in Thailand. Mr. Sestak is in the process of authorizing this firm to act on his behalf. […] Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates in Thailand have met with potential appraisers for the Phuket and Bangkok properties. Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates have also spoken with potential brokers in Phuket and have several meetings planned this week with several additional brokers.

Case title: USA v. SESTAK et al; Magistrate judge case number: 1:13-mj-00463-AK

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US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso

– Domani Spero

We’ve blogged previously about the US Consulate -related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in 2010.  The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate.

El Paso Times’ Diana Washington Valdez has covered this case from the beginning. According to EPT, the jury was selected on January 31, 2014:

Jury selection gets underway today in the trial of an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez in 2010.

Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, who pleaded not guilty, claims in court filings that he confessed to the crime because he was tortured and his wife raped by Mexican police before he was extradited to the United States in 2012.
[…]
U.S. officials have not offered a clear motive for the three slayings in 2010, except to suggest that the killers might have confused the victims for rivals. Evidence from the trial may shed light on why the trio was attacked.

The three victims had left a children’s party in Juárez attended by consulate employees and their families, and were in two separate vehicles, Redelfs and his wife in one, and Salcido in the second vehicle. Both vehicles were white in color.

Shooters, who were also in separate vehicles, followed the two white cars and shot them up in Juárez near the Stanton Street bridge.

Read more here.

Catch up on the trial below — see links to the El Paso Times coverage:

Juarez consulate killings: Opening statements begin
02/03/2014 – The government presented opening statements this morning in the trial of Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010.

US Consulate trial: Barrio Azteca gang member recounts killings during Juarez cartel war
02/04/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member gave bone-chilling testimony Monday about his role in the violence that ignited Juarez during the drug cartel wars and left among its victims a U.S.

Juarez consulate trial: FBI agent says the accused never told him he was tortured in Mexico
02/05/2014 – The defendant in a federal trial accused of conspiring to kill three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010 did not tell FBI agents that Mexican police tortured him…

Juarez consulate killings: Witness says Barrio Aztecas were trained by Zetas cartel
02/05/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member turned government witness testified Tuesday that his gang had received training on how to become better killers from the notorious Zetas drug cartel.

Juarez consulate trial: Relative of kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testifies
02/07/2014 – A relative of Mexican drug kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testified Thursday as a government witness in the federal trial of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged Barrio Azteca leader accused of conspiring to kill three people with links to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez.

El Paso Barrio Azteca gang helped arm counterparts in Juarez
02/08/2014 – Barrio Azteca gang members in El Paso provided firearms and ammunition to counterparts in Juarez and used women as drug mules to smuggle heroin into the United States, said former gang members

US Consulate trial: DEA source set up secure network for Juarez cartel
02/11/2014 – A telecommunications specialist from Mexico testified Monday that he helped set up a secure radio network for the Barrio Azteca and La Linea members in 2010 that was used to relay orders to kill …

US Consulate killings trial: Witness says defendant ordered the slayings
02/12/2014 – A Barrio Azteca member who admitted taking part in the March 2010 slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez testified Tuesday that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon gave the order…

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Joan Wadelton: Time To Fix The State Department (via WhirledView)

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— Domani Spero

We have previously posted about the case of FSO Joan Wadelton. (See Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time!Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to CongressGAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain). She is now on her tenth year of a legal dispute with the Department of State’s Bureau of Human Resources (HR). She recently guest posted at WhirledView and put her views on the record  “about how to correct the systemic failings that I have encountered over the last 10 years in the Bureau of Human Resources, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of the Legal Advisor.” Quick excerpt below:

The pervasive lack of oversight has led to near total impunity for those guilty of incompetence, cronyism and corruption within State.  A small group of career officials has taken advantage of this to gain control of the bureaucracy’s administrative functions.  Their pernicious influence has persisted for years.

The longevity of the group has been made possible by its control of the personnel system.  Senior managers at State stay in place for years – and when they do retire, they are rehired in a lucrative pay status, allowing them to remain in senior positions for more years.   Thus, the same people turn up repeatedly in ambassadorships and assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary jobs.

Not only does this discourage fresh thinking, it has bottled up the personnel system at the top.  With the jobs at the higher ranks endlessly filled by the same people, the cohort five or 10 years behind them in the career service cannot move up to become the next generation of leaders.  And as a consequence, many FSOs are forced to retire at the peak of their expertise.

Members of this inner circle have used their control of HR to give themselves and their friends promotions, prestigious assignments, cash bonuses and jobs for family members.  Conversely, they have used HR as a weapon against employees they dislike – including removing them from promotion lists and blocking plum assignments and cash bonuses – no matter how qualified those disfavored people might be.

Ms. Wadelton  was a Foreign Service Officer from 1980-2011.  She served in Africa, Latin America, Russia and Iraq.  In addition to assignments in the State Department, she was an advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a director of the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Continue reading Time to Fix the State Department.

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