US Embassy Cashier Gets 72 Months for Stealing US$488,954

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In Singapore

This one from Sujin Thomas of The Straits Times, Singapore | August 19:

“A FORMER consular cashier at the US Embassy wanted money to renovate her flat, cover her partying expenses and other extravagances.

So Hasrinah Hassan, 35, pocketed various sums of money over six years, totalling US$488,954 ($709,935.67) through fraudulent refunds of consular fees which were paid to the US government. These fees were for the settlement of visas, passports and other services and Hasrinah’s job was to ensure that they were properly accounted for.

An embassy staff member made a police report on April 2 when discrepancies on processed refunds emerged. On Wednesday, Hasrinah, 35, was jailed six years in a district court for three charges of criminal breach of trust.

Read the whole thing here.

Back in June this year, a former employee at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing more than $800,000 from the Department of State. That one was an embassy cashier; this one in Singapore was a consular cashier. The culprit in Haiti was running his scheme for almost five years (2003-2008) before he got caught. The one in Singapore pocketed money for over six years (2003-2009) before she was reported to the police. Why?

In the case of the embassy cashier in Haiti, he would have been supervised by the Financial Management Officer (if there was one). If the absence of an FMO, the embassy’s financial management operation would have come under the Management Officer’s responsibility. The Courthouse News Service says that the disbursement of funds from Washington into the Haitian bank accounts functioned with so little oversight that Jean Saint-Joy was able to pursue his simple scheme for five years before he was found out. It also provided the following details:

Saint-Joy admitted that from 2003 until 2008, while working at the embassy, he submitted documents to Citibank and Haitian-based Sogebank, falsely claiming he needed cash advances to pay the embassy’s vendors for legitimate expenses. Saint-Joy said the embassy needed cash because during political unrest vendors accepted only cash payments. The banks advanced the money without requiring a written agreement from the embassy.

Citibank and Sogebank deposited U.S. dollars and Haitian Gourdes into Saint-Joy’s cash advance account but Saint-Joy never recorded the transactions in the embassy’s accounting system. Saint-Joy submitted more than 100 fraudulent replenishment requests to the Global Finance Services division of the State Department for the Citibank and Sogebank accounts.

In the case of the consular cashier in Singapore, she would have been supervised by the Accountable Consular Officer; ideally a mid-level officer. However, it would not be totally uncommon to see an entry level officer with ACO duties.

The OIG inspected US Embassy Singapore in 2005 and wrote:

Embassy Singapore’s management controls are effective. Duties are appropriately separated and spot checks of staff work generally performed. The competency of American and FSN staff and the absence of endemic corruption in Singapore reduce control environment risks. These factors, however, should not lead American managers to become complacent. OIG counseled embassy management on the continued importance of management control procedures. OIG found that some duties were not assigned to individuals at a senior enough level, and the embassy was quick to correct these designations during the inspection. Full report here.

The Singapore case makes two just in 2009. Makes you wonder how this could have happened.

#1. Were there systemic holes in the management controls that have not been previously identified? Daily reconciliations, check; spot checks, check; magic wand ???

#2. Was an
at cone, at grade Consular Officer tasked with ACO duties failed to do his/her job?

#3. Did the mid-level staffing deficit made it necessary to appoint an entry-level officer as ACO? Having no prior experience, and/or in the absence of local standard operating procedures (SOP) on ACO work, the officer might not have fully recognized the ins and outs of his/her duties. (My favorite Consular Officer never gets home before 6 pm. He’s out there accounting for consular stuff. Every single work day).

#4. Were entry level officers placed on rotational ACO duties? No matter how smart those ELOs may be, the culprit is often more knowledgeable and has more experience. Short-term officer rotation program ranging from 3-6 months in various consular sections including collateral duties also makes it hard for officers to get into the nitty-gritty of their jobs. If it takes you at least 3-6 months to learn your job, how do you really learn it if your entire unit assignment encompasses exactly 6 months? By the time you’ve learn enough to do your job reasonably well, you’re on to the next rung in the consular obstacle course.

The court records for either case, appears unavailable online as far as I could tell. If you know more, let me know.

Finally this — the US Embassy consular cashier in Singapore used the money to renovate her Woodlands flat and to pay for trips to Bangkok, Australia, Japan and the United States with her family. She also spent on car accessories, high-end cosmetics, perfumes, branded handbags and mobile phones. Police seized – besides cash and other items – a Prada bag and a Louis Vuitton wristlet bag.

Can you really afford a Prada bag on an FSN$$ salary? Red flags! One must not only be present but be also attentive to red flags. And to paraphrase Holmes badly — When you have checked out the red flags, whatever red remains, however badly that red bleeds, must be the truth.

Okay, while you’re thinking about management controls, see Madam Le Consul’s list of Consular Requirements That We Might Miss (check out side bar).