USDOJ: Armenian Citizen Pleads Guilty for His Role in For-Profit U.S. Visa Fraud Scheme

 

Via USDOJ:

Armenian Citizen Pleads Guilty for His Role in For-Profit U.S. Visa Fraud Scheme

A man residing in Glendale, California, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to unlawfully bring in aliens and visa fraud for his role in a multi-year visa fraud scheme that brought Armenian citizens into the United States for profit.

Hrachya Atoyan, 32, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara in the Eastern District of New York.  Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie.  According to the indictment, Atoyan allegedly participated in a transnational network of co-conspirators who engaged in a widespread visa fraud scheme to bring Armenian citizens into the United States by fraudulently claiming to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the Armenians were members of performance groups, and thus qualified for P-3 “Culturally Unique Artist” visas.

“Exploiting the P-3 non-immigrant visa classification system for culturally unique artist and entertainers makes a mockery out of the legitimate performers for whom that visa was intended,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “We will work hand in hand with our law enforcement partners to rid the system of fraudsters, like Mr. Atoyan and his co-conspirators, who seek to take advantage of and profit from our immigration system.”

“Atoyan’s guilty plea brings down the curtain on an elaborate visa fraud scheme to falsely portray applicants as artists and entertainers in order to circumvent our country’s P-3 visa program,” said U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York.

“The Diplomatic Security Service builds strong teams overseas and in the United States to protect the integrity of all U.S. visas and travel documents – especially those, like the P-3 visa, which allow for entertainers to visit the United States to perform in culturally unique events and deepen our understanding of different cultures,” said Todd J. Brown, Director of the Diplomatic Security Service.  “DSS values our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies around the world to prevent and jointly combat U.S. passport and visa fraud. Deterring, detecting, and investigating U.S. passport and visa fraud is essential to safeguarding our national security.”

[…]

The P-3 nonimmigrant visa classification allows foreign nationals to temporarily travel to the United States to perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers, under a program that is culturally unique.  A U.S. employer or sponsoring organization is required to submit a USCIS Form I-129 Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker, along with supporting documentation, attesting that the performances in the United States are culturally unique.

In February 2018, Stella Boyadjian of Rego Park, New York; Atoyan; and Diana Grigoryan, aka “Dina Akopovna,” 42, of the Republic of Armenia were charged in a 15-count indictment with visa fraud and with conspiracy to: defraud the United States, commit visa fraud, and illegally bring aliens into the United States.  Boyadjian and Grigoryan were also charged with related money laundering charges, and Boyadjian was charged with aggravated identity theft.  Boyadjian previously pleaded guilty on March 4, 2019 in the Eastern District of New York.

As alleged in the indictment, Boyadjian ran a non-profit organization called Big Apple Music Awards Foundation (BAMA) based in Rego Park, New York.  Boyadjian used the Big Apple Music Awards Foundation as well as formal and informal music industry contacts in the United States and Armenia to perpetuate the scheme.  Atoyan, Boyadjian, and others solicited Armenian citizens who wanted to come to the United States and charged them between $3,000 and $10,000 to be included on the Form I-129 Petitions.  Boyadjian and other associates in Armenia then acquired fraudulent performer certificates and organized staged photo sessions where the aliens wore traditional Armenian folk outfits to make it appear as though they were traditional Armenian performers.  After being trained how to defeat U.S. visa interviews, the individual aliens presented these certificates and photos to U.S. consular officers during their visa interviews.  Once the Armenians entered the United States, some would pay Boyadjian and her associates additional money to be included in another fraudulent petition asking for P-3 visa extensions.  As alleged in the indictment, Atoyan himself came to the United States on a P-3 visa obtained in connection with a Form I-129 submitted by BAMA.

Advertisements

@StateDept Issues Travel Advisory Following Massive #LebanonProtests

 

 

On October 21, the State Department issued a  Travel Advisory for Lebanon. The advisory is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel due to to crime, terrorism, armed conflict and civil unrest. Excerpt:

U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Lebanon should be aware that consular officers from the U.S. Embassy are not always able to travel to assist them. The Department of State considers the threat to U.S. government personnel in Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions. The internal security policies of the U.S. Embassy may be adjusted at any time and without advance notice.
[…]
The Lebanese government cannot guarantee the protection of U.S. citizens against sudden outbreaks of violence. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes can escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with no warning. Armed clashes have occurred along the Lebanese borders, in Beirut, and in refugee settlements. The Lebanese Armed Forces have been brought in to quell the violence in these situations.

 

@StateDept Re-Issues Level 2 Travel Advisory For Saudi Arabia Over Threat of Missile and Drone Attacks on Civilian Targets

 

On September 17, the State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory (Exercised Increased Caution) for Saudi Arabia due to “terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.” It previously issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory on June 26, 2019 but the advisory was reissued “with updates to security information.”
Via travel.state.gov:

Exercise increased caution in Saudi Arabia due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.

Do not travel to:

Within 50 miles of the border with Yemen due to terrorism and armed conflict.

Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Terrorists have targeted both Saudi and Western government interests, mosques and other religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places frequented by U.S. citizens and other Westerners.

Regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted destructive and sometimes lethal attacks against a variety of targets including critical infrastructure, military facilities, airports, and energy facilities throughout the country, as well as vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes. Riyadh, Yanbu, areas in proximity to Jeddah, the civilian airport in Abha, military installations in the south, and specific oil and gas facilities are examples of recent targets. The Islamic Republic of Iran has supplied Yemen-based Houthis and other regional proxy groups with weapons, including drones, missiles, and rockets. Houthi militants continue to plan and conduct attacks against locations in Saudi Arabia. Violence associated with Iran-supported groups represents a significant threat. U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Eastern Province and areas near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attack.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the following locations, as U.S. Mission personnel and their families are restricted from travel to:

    • Within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border, including the cities of Jizan and Najran, and
    • Qatif in the Eastern province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah.

U.S. Mission personnel and their families are not permitted to use the airport in Abha without Chief of Mission approval.

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman region, including Saudi Arabia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an advisory Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). For more information U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.

If you decide to travel to Saudi Arabia:

    • Stay alert in locations frequented by Westerners.
    • Obtain comprehensive medical insurance that includes medical evacuation.
    • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
    • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
    • Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Saudi Arabia.
    • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Yemen Border

Violence in Yemen has spilled over into Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions. Rebel forces in Yemen fire artillery at Saudi border towns and launch cross-border attacks against Saudi military personnel. Civilians who are near the border with Yemen are at risk.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border as U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel to this area.

Visit our website for information on travel to high-risk areas.

 

ALSO THIS:  Who’s going to do it, and what kind of props will he/she bring to the United Nations? The last time one of our guys did it, he brought a vial he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council in 2003.

Related items:

 

@StateDept Issues Revised Visa Reciprocity Fees For Nigeria

 

The US Embassy Abuja in Nigeria announced recently that the visa reciprocity schedule for Nigeria has changed effective August 29, 2019.  The statement notes that  since early 2018, the U.S. government has engaged the Nigerian government to request that the Nigerian government change the fees charged to U.S. citizens for certain visa categories.  Apparently, the government of Nigeria has not changed its fee structure for U.S. citizen visa applicants, so now the State Department has issued new reciprocity fees. Note that visa processing fees, and visa issuance fees are not the same. 

Effective worldwide on 29 August, Nigerian citizens will be required to pay a visa issuance fee, or reciprocity fee, for all approved applications for nonimmigrant visas in B, F, H1B, I, L, and R visa classifications.  The reciprocity fee will be charged in addition to the nonimmigrant visa application fee, also known as the MRV fee, which all applicants pay at the time of application.  Nigerian citizens whose applications for a nonimmigrant visa are denied will not be charged the new reciprocity fee.  Both reciprocity and MRV fees are non-refundable, and their amounts vary based on visa classification.

U.S. law requires U.S. visa fees and validity periods to be based on the treatment afforded to U.S. citizens by foreign governments, insofar as possible.  Visa issuance fees are implemented under the principle of reciprocity: when a foreign government imposes additional visa fees on U.S. citizens, the United States will impose reciprocal fees on citizens of that country for similar types of visas.  Nationals of a number of countries worldwide are currently required to pay this type of fee after their nonimmigrant visa application is approved.

The total cost for a U.S. citizen to obtain a visa to Nigeria is currently higher than the total cost for a Nigerian to obtain a comparable visa to the United States.  The new reciprocity fee for Nigerian citizens is meant to eliminate that cost difference.

Since early 2018, the U.S. government has engaged the Nigerian government to request that the Nigerian government change the fees charged to U.S. citizens for certain visa categories.  After eighteen months of review and consultations, the government of Nigeria has not changed its fee structure for U.S. citizen visa applicants, requiring the U.S. Department of State to enact new reciprocity fees in accordance with our visa laws.

The reciprocity fee will be required for all Nigerian citizens worldwide, regardless of where they are applying for a nonimmigrant visa to the United States.  The reciprocity fee is required for each visa that is issued, which means both adults and minors whose visa applications are approved will be charged the reciprocity fee.  The fee can only be paid at the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General.  The reciprocity fee cannot be paid at banks or any other location.

The new fees range between $80 to $303.00 USD.  The Visa Reciprocity Schedule is available here.

USCIS to Shrink Overseas Presence to Seven Locations

 

We almost missed a recent announcement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) dated August 9 concerning its “international footprint.” It will maintain its presence at seven locations but will close 13 field offices and 13 district offices within the next year.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today plans to maintain operations at its international field offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and New Delhi, India. Previously, Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli directed the agency to continue operating in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Mexico City, Mexico; and San Salvador, El Salvador, as part of a whole-of-government approach to address the crisis at the southern border.

While retaining these seven international offices, USCIS plans to close the remaining thirteen international field offices and three district offices between now and August 2020. The first planned closures are the field offices in Monterrey, Mexico, and Seoul, South Korea, at the end of September. These organizational changes will allow more effective allocation of USCIS resources to support, in part, backlog reduction efforts.

“This cost-effective and high value international footprint allows USCIS to efficiently adjudicate complex immigration petitions that require in-person interviews, to enhance integrity through fraud detection and national security activities, and to liaise with U.S. and foreign government entities to improve migration management capacity,” said Cuccinelli. “In the months ahead, USCIS will close its other international offices on a staggered schedule, ensuring a smooth transition of workloads to USCIS domestic offices and State Department consular sections, while mitigating impacts on USCIS staff who will rotate back to domestic positions.”

Many functions currently performed at international offices will be handled domestically or by USCIS domestic staff on temporary assignments abroad. As part of this shift, the Department of State (DOS) will assume responsibility for certain in-person services that USCIS currently provides at international field offices. In addition to issuing visas to foreign nationals who are abroad, DOS already performs many of these service functions where USCIS does not have an office. USCIS is working closely with DOS to minimize interruptions in immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners.

As of this writing, travel.state.gov’s newsroom remains pretty sparse with news.

#

IRS to Individuals With Significant Tax Debts: Act Now to Avoid Passport Revocations

 

We’ve blogged previously about the potential revocation of passports for those with substantial tax debts to the Internal Revenue Service (see Officially On: Revocation/Denial of Passport For Americans With Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt;   IRS to Start Certifying Unpaid Taxes of $50K+ in Early 2017 For Revocation/Denial of US PassportsNew Law Authorizes Revocation or Denial of U.S. Passports to Certain Tax Delinquents).
Recently, the IRS again reminded individuals with significant tax debts to act promptly to avoid the revocation of their passports. See the sample IRS notice below or click this PDF file. Click here for a guide in understanding the IRS notice.

Click on image to see the “seriously delinquent” IRS notice

Via IRS:

Under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the IRS notifies the State Department (State) of taxpayers certified as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, which is currently $52,000 or more. The law then requires State to deny their passport application or renewal. If a taxpayer currently has a valid passport, State may revoke the passport or limit a taxpayer’s ability to travel outside the United States.

When the IRS certifies a taxpayer to State as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt, the taxpayer receives a Notice CP508C from the IRS. The notice explains what steps the taxpayer needs to take to resolve the debt. IRS telephone assistors can help taxpayers resolve the debt. For example, they can help taxpayers set up a payment plan or make them aware of other payment options. Taxpayers should not delay because some resolutions take longer than others.

Don’t Delay!

It’s especially important for taxpayers with imminent travel plans who have had their passport applications denied by State to call the IRS promptly. The IRS can help taxpayers resolve their tax issues and expedite reversal of their certification to State. When expedited, the IRS can generally shorten the 30 days processing time by 14 to 21 days. For expedited reversal of their certification, taxpayers will need to inform the IRS that they have travel scheduled within 45 days or that they live abroad.

For expedited treatment, taxpayers must provide the following documents to the IRS:

      • Proof of travel. This can be a flight itinerary, hotel reservation, cruise ticket, international car insurance or other document showing location and approximate date of travel or time-sensitive need for a passport.
      • Copy of letter from State denying their passport application or revoking their passport. State has sole authority to issue, limit, deny or revoke a passport.

The IRS may ask State to exercise its authority to revoke a taxpayer’s passport. For example, the IRS may recommend revocation if the IRS had reversed a taxpayer’s certification because of their promise to pay, and they failed to pay. The IRS may also ask State to revoke a passport if the taxpayer could use offshore activities or interests to resolve their debt but chooses not to.

Before contacting State about revoking a taxpayer’s passport, the IRS will send Letter 6152, Notice of Intent to Request U.S. Department of State Revoke Your Passport, to the taxpayer to let them know  what the IRS intends to do and give them another opportunity to resolve their debts . Taxpayers must call the IRS within 30 days from the date of the letter. Generally, the IRS will not recommend revoking a taxpayer’s passport if the taxpayer is making a good-faith attempt to resolve their tax debts.

Ways to Resolve Tax Issues

There are several ways taxpayers can avoid having the IRS notify State of their seriously delinquent tax debt. They include the following:

      • Paying the tax debt in full,
      • Paying the tax debt timely under an approved installment agreement,
      • Paying the tax debt timely under an accepted offer in compromise,
      • Paying the tax debt timely under the terms of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice,
      • Having a pending collection due process appeal with a levy, or
      • Having collection suspended because a taxpayer has made an innocent spouse election or requested innocent spouse relief.
The IRS says that taxpayers may ask for a payment plan with the IRS by filing Form 9465. Some taxpayers may also qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the tax liability for less than the full amount owed.  The IRS notes that it will not certify a taxpayer as owing a seriously delinquent tax debt or will reverse the certification for a taxpayer under certain circumstances. For instance, taxpayers who are in bankruptcy, those who have been identified by the IRS as a victim of tax-related identity theft, or those who are located within a federally declared disaster area will not be certified for purposes of passport revocation.
There is also an exception for those serving in combat zones: “taxpayers serving in a combat zone who owe a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS postpones notifying the State Department of the delinquency and the taxpayer’s passport is not subject to denial during the time of service in a combat zone. Read in full here.

#

Trump Threatens Retaliation Against Countries That Issue Travel Warnings For USA #GetReady

 

 

On August 10, USA Today reported that the president has threatened retaliation Friday against countries and organizations that issue travel warnings on the United States because of gun violence (see Amnesty International Issues Travel Advisory For the United States of America).
The president said during the gaggle “We are a very reciprocal nation with me as the head. When somebody does something negative to us in terms of a country, we do it to them.”
Oh, Lordy, that’s going to be the end of the State Department’s Travel Advisories, wouldn’t it? Better not show him the other countries’ color coded map of the United States where these gun violence is happening, or that’s going to blow up the State Department’s travel advisory travel map, too.

But seriously, per Foreign Affairs Manual, the travel advisories are part of the Consular Affairs’ Consular Information Program (CIP). It is a public outreach program through which the Department of State, through the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), and U.S. embassies and consulates, “inform U.S. citizens and nationals of potential threats to their health or safety abroad and provide information about consular services.” Also this:
“All information provided to the public through the CIP represents the Department’s objective assessment of conditions in a given country based on reliable information available at the time of publishing, as reported by posts, various Department bureaus, other U.S. government agencies and departments, foreign governments, and credible open sources.”
Most importantly is this:
“Information provided through the CIP, including Travel Advisories and Alerts for U.S. citizens, is based on the overall assessment of the situation in country.  By necessity, this analysis is undertaken without regard to political or economic considerations.”
The Travel Advisory Review Committee (TARC) brings Department stakeholders together to discuss security information and how it is relayed via Travel Advisories.  TARC includes representatives from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, (DS/TIA/ITA); Post’s regional bureau; the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; the Office of the Under Secretary for Management; Representatives from other bureaus as appropriate based on the threat, to include: 1) Coordinator for Counter Terrorism (CT), when the threat is terrorism related; 2) Medical Services, when the threat is health related; 3) Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB/TRA/OP), if there are aviation issues; 4) Legal offices (OCS/L/CA), when there are legal issues; 5) The Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security (T), when there is a nuclear issue; 6) Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), when the threat is environmental; and 7) Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), if threat presents human rights concerns, such as LGBTI issues.
The TARC is chaired by CA’s Overseas Citizen Services, an office that reports to the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch. Mr. Risch, however, has overall responsibility for the Consular Information Program (CIP), to include supervising and managing the program, and is authorized to determine the final wording of all products. CA’s Carl Risch reports to the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. U/Secretary Bulatao in turn reports to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and Secretary Mike Pompeo.
So, if this president starts retaliating against countries that issue Travel Warnings for the United States, who’s going to tell him “no”?  We’re ready to borrow the rules from the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, if needed.

 

#

After Leaked Diplomatic Letters Over A$AP Rocky’s Detention in Sweden, Where Should @StateSPEHA Go Next?

Help Fund the Blog |  Countdown: Less Than 24 Hours to Go

______________________________________

 

Trump’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien who was in Sweden for A$AP Rocky’s assault trial apparently told USAToday reporter Kim Hjelmgaard that it is “entirely appropriate” for him to be in Sweden even though this was a criminal case. “When foreign govts. hold American citizens it’s always appropriate”.
The things we learn these days!
As of December 2018, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has conducted 10,399 visits to U.S. citizens in prison overseas. Note – prison visits not hostage visits. Only a few of those U.S. citizens make the news (see CA Fact Sheet).
The Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs also said publicly, while tagging his ultimate boss on Twitter, that the president “has made bringing our fellow citizens home a center piece of his foreign policy”.
Consular work just got so utterly fascinating. Now, which ones of the over 10,000 prison visits by consular officers to U.S. citizens incarcerated overseas will now be done by the special envoy? Which fellow citizens jailed overseas will be brought home next?

#

Consular Affairs Asst Secretary Carl Risch Visits A$AP Rocky in Sweden, Who Else Wanna Visit?

Help Fund the Blog |  Countdown:  4 Days to Go

______________________________________

 

 

Update: ASAP Rocky and Co-Defendants Allowed to Leave Sweden While Awaiting Verdict (set for August 14).
Sweden’a national public television broadcaster SVT reported on July 19 that the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch was in country to meet with A$AP Rocky and the other two detained US citizens.  He reportedly also meet staff from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Also see U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden).

The report cites a statement from Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that “Risch will, among other things, meet with representatives of the Foreign Office’s consular unit and the Justice Department, as well as in the role of consular officer in attendance at one of the US embassy’s previously scheduled visits to the three detained US citizens.” (via online translation).
The Foreign Ministry further writes according to SVT that “The US embassy has confirmed that the conditions in the Swedish detention comply with both the Vienna Convention and the international standard.” This in reference to a report by TMZ that A$AP was being held in “shockingly inhumane condition”.
A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden on July 3. The State Department previously announced on July 17 that CA’s Assistant Secretary Risch was traveling to Sweden from July 18-20 apparently to “observe U.S. consular operations and meet with foreign government counterparts to underscore the enduring commitment to the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas and the facilitation of legitimate travel to the United States.”
The State Department’s own 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Sweden  under Prison and Detention Center Conditions notes:
There were no significant reports regarding prison, detention center, or migrant detention facility conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
In any case, the top gun at Consular Affairs already visited A$AP Rocky on July 19th. (Prior to Asst Secretary Risch’s visit, do you know when was the last time the assistant secretary of Consular Affairs made a prison visit overseas?).
When @StateSPEHA Robert O’Brien (the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs)  showed up in the Swedish courtroom on July 30 along with journalists, teenage rap fans and curious onlookers, the highest official in charge of Consular Affairs appeared to have already seen the three detained Americans.   One specific embassy official also has a clear role and reporting duties in the arrest and detention of American citizens. We would be surprised if U.S. Embassy Sweden’s Charge d’affaires ad interim Pamela Tremont, or post’s Consular Chief have not already visited the detainees.
Since neither the Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary nor the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs could sprung A$AP Rocky from jail, how useful are their presence in Sweden beyond appearances that they are doing something to get these individuals released?
Do we have senior officials actually thinking through the potential consequences of these actions — with senior officials descending into Sweden, and presidential tweets pressuring for the release of those in detention, plus the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs tweeting about “expedited paperworks “?
Does anyone enjoy the appearance of giving in because of some very public arm-twisting? No?
It may interest you to know that Sweden is also the “protecting power” for the United States in North Korea and has been so since September 1995. These folks know hostages. Do you think Sweden appreciates the United States decision to send a Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to a non-hostage situation there? Even if this case were to get resolved next week, do you think the Swedes will simply forget this?

U.S. Sends Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to A$AP Rocky’s Assault Trial in Sweden

Help Fund the Blog |  Countdown:  6 Days to Go

______________________________________

 

According to the State Department, when an American is arrested or detained abroad, the State Department—through its Embassies and Consulates—ensures that U.S. consular officers are there to assist. They help see that Americans are treated humanely and in accordance with local law, are given the opportunity for a lawyer, and can correspond with family back home.
Per its Foreign Affairs Manual, the Department expects consular officers to be “particularly active in, and to fully engage in” the protection of the welfare of the arrestee; ensure that the arrestee is being treated fairly and is afforded all due process under local law, provide needed consular services such as EMDA or administer a trust fund in a timely and efficient manner; track the process of the case through the host country’s legal system; and to keep the Department, family members, congressional representatives and others full informed on all aspects of the case, consistent with Privacy Act.

 

Consular assistance to Americans arrested or detained overseas includes the following:
State Department/U.S. Embassies Can:
  • Provide a list of local attorneys who speak English
  • Contact family, friends, or employers of the detained U.S. citizen (with their written permission)
  • Visit the detained U.S. citizen regularly and provide reading materials and vitamin supplements, where appropriate
  • Ensure that prison officials are providing appropriate medical care
  • Provide a general overview of the local criminal justice process
  • Upon request, ensure that prison officials permit visits with a member of the clergy of the religion of the detainee’s choice
  • Establish an OCS Trust, if necessary, so friends and family can transfer funds to imprisoned U.S. citizens
State Department, U.S. Embassies Cannot:
  • Get U.S. citizens out of jail
  • State to a court that anyone is guilty or innocent
  • Provide legal advice or represent U.S. citizens in court
  • Serve as official interpreters or translators
  • Pay legal, medical, or other fees
Reports note that POTUS sent the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to Sweden for the A$AP Rocky trial.  “The president asked me to come here and support these American citizens,” O’Brien told the New York Times. “I’ll be here until they come home.” (via). How often is he going to do this for other American citizens?
Nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual is there any mention of the role the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs play in cases of U.S. citizens incarcerated abroad or while they are on trial. In most of the normal world, it is understood that American citizens are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the particular countries they are in. In this particular case, Time says that “Sweden does not have a bail system, which is why the rapper was detained with no way to get out even before he was formally charged.” Also see our old post below about the non-portability of American rights.

Non-Portability of American Rights

In any case, we don’t understand why the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs is involved with this case.  Does the U.S. Government considers A$AP Rocky on trial for assault in Sweden, a hostage? Are we to understand that Americans incarcerated and detained overseas are now considered hostages to bring back as soon as possible? And if that’s not the case, and if this is an exception, what are the grounds for the Trump Administration to make this type of exception?
Is the Special Envoy’s role now includes affecting the release of all American citizens from foreign incarceration/detention?
How does a regular American citizen’s family petition for the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs to be involved in their cases overseas?
Any guidance sent to consular officers doing ACS work? When is the State Department updating the Foreign Affairs Manual?
Also the next time U.S. diplomats overseas talk to their local counterparts about judicial independence and the rule of law, should they expect a push back with this case as Exhibit A?

 

#