US Embassy Malaysia: Extradition to U.S. For Smuggling Scheme Involving 1500 Protected Turtles

 

Via USDOJ: Foreign National Sentenced for Money Laundering Funds to Promote Turtle Trafficking

A Chinese citizen was sentenced today to 38 months in prison and one year of supervised release on a federal money laundering conviction.

Kang Juntao, 25, of Hangzhou City, China, had previously pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Camden, New Jersey, to financing a nationwide ring of individuals who smuggled at least 1,500 protected turtles, valued at more than $2,250,000, from the United States to Hong Kong. The court also ordered Kang to pay a $10,000 fine, equaling the total assets he held in the United States.

From at least June 12, 2017, to Dec. 3, 2018, Kang recruited a network of poachers, shippers and middlemen to illegally obtain and export turtles. He sent money through U.S. banks, including one in New Jersey, to pay for the turtles and their shipments. He arranged for the turtles to be sold illegally in the Chinese pet market for thousands of dollars each.

Kang had never entered the United States, but the U.S. money laundering statute provides jurisdiction when someone outside of the country passes more than $10,000 through the U.S. financial system to promote specified unlawful activities, such as smuggling wildlife.

In furtherance of the United States’ request for provisional arrest with a view to extradition, the Royal Malaysia Police arrested Kang when he traveled to Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 23, 2019. Kang was extradited to the United States to stand trial in the District of New Jersey in December 2020 pursuant to the extradition treaty between the United States and Malaysian governments.

“The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute those who finance and profit from illegal wildlife trafficking, even if they do so from abroad,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“The extradition of a foreign national who had never set foot on American soil for financing a turtle-trafficking ring in the U.S. sends an important message: those who exploit imperiled wildlife for profit will be brought to justice,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “This investigation illustrates the global reach of the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement made possible by close coordination with partners, including the government of Malaysia, and our resolve to stop international wildlife trafficking from source to consumer.”

The United States, Malaysia, China and approximately 181 other countries are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is an international treaty that restricts trade in species that may be threatened with extinction.

Kang trafficked in five turtle species protected by the treaty. The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), the Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) and the Gulf Coast box turtle (Terrapene carolina major) are subspecies of the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and have been listed in CITES since 1995. The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a semi-aquatic turtle listed in CITES as of 2013. The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) has been protected under CITES since 1992. The turtles are worth on average between $650 to $2,500 each in the Asian market. Female turtles with rare markings have been sold for as much as $20,000.

Kang sent money via PayPal, credit cards or bank transfers to the United States to purchase turtles from sellers advertising on social media or reptile trade websites. These suppliers then shipped the turtles to middlemen across five different states. The middlemen were typically Chinese citizens who entered the country on student visas. Kang paid and instructed these intermediaries to repackage the turtles in boxes with false labels for clandestine shipment to Hong Kong. The turtles were inhumanely bound with duct tape and placed in socks so as not to alert customs authorities. Neither Kang nor his associates declared the turtles to U.S. or Chinese customs or obtained the required CITES permits.

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Fairy Godfathers in Congress Cast Their Riddikulus Spell For Ambassadorships

 

We are the only country in the developed world that does this over and over and over again. Remember when Russia sent one of its top diplomats to the UN and we sent our amateurs? Yep, that wasn’t fun to watch.  The Russians must have wondered, “how did we get this lucky?”
The Gordon Sonland episode during the first impeachment trial may have shocked people to attention but it did not dampen the interests of political donors, nor that of the current administration.  In fact, this is a tradition gleefully shared by the Democratic and Republican administrations. Of course, promises will be made, now and again but in the end, this will never get fixed. Why? Both parties benefit from the practice of using plum ambassadorships as rewards to friends, donors, political allies, and supporters. Also if you’re a congressional representative, would you really shut the door on a potential new career in diplomacy when the time comes for you to retire from politics?  Nah, that would be silly!
Obviously, Congressional representatives think the job is easy peasy it does not require diplomatic experience, and it can be done by anyone with good manners and a nice bark.
Now, we’re just wondering which party would be the first to award an ambassadorship to man’s best friend! Because why not?
Wouldn’t a well trained dog like Major could do just as well?  Just get Major an excellent DCM who will not crash his party!  And really, Major is the President’s best pal in DC, who wouldn’t want to be friends with him?
Somebody give that dog an agrément!
Note that Palmerston did run Whitehall for a bit, and Larry, the Cat, well, he does lord over 10 Downing Street and poor Boris. They’re two nice  inspiration; Palmerston and Larry, that is, not Boris. Pardon me? Incitatus, too? Well, that horse was never made a consul contrary to ancient rumors.
Listen. Here’s the thing. If you recommend Major for an ambassadorship and senator cruz barks about everything (except the insurrection), Major could just as quickly bark back about doggy biscuits or anything at all under the sun.  The Senators could then have their bark-a-bark marathon, and it’ll be on a double pay-per view at C-SPAN and DOGTV.
In any case, who can blame entry level diplomats considering their career options with this reality in mind (not the doggy ambassador, silly!). Not that all career diplomats get to become ambassadors, of course.  But most of them will get to babysit most amateur ambassadors unless Elon Musk develops an FSD for ambassadorships.  When that happens, folks can just skip FSI’s three-week Ambassadorial Seminar, and get the George Kennan chip (with two ambassadorships). Or level up to a Thomas Pickering chip (with seven ambassadorships). You can’t cram 30 years experience into a three-week seminar, how could you? But Elon can put all that in an embedable chip!
You think we’re making fun of the Senate? Nah, won’t dream of it. But don’t you think Congress is now just having fun with us since elected reps don’t really think the general public cares?

Somehow, the folks over at Share America are missing a few important steps; who’s going to tell them that their infographic needs more work?

EEOC: US Embassy Yemen FSN Discrimination Claim Over Denial of Overtime Fails

 

This is an instructive case for local employees of U.S. missions overseas. Even during a crisis, especially during a crisis, during chaos, even during evacuations, if a local employee is tasked to do work outside or normal work hours, there must be overtime pre-approval by the the supervisor (typically this means the American officer-supervisor).   In this EEOC case, the local employee claimed 1,952 hours of overtime for work purportedly done from 2015-2019. Without documented pre-approval by the American supervisor, Uncle Sam is not obligated to pay.
Even if a supervisor  or some other embassy official asked for work to be done; even if work was actually done as requested …if there’s no record or documentation regarding the overtime requests or preapproval for the overtime “as required”, there would be “no basis to grant the overtime pay.”
All good supervisors and decent human beings hopefully will ensure that pre-approvals are made and granted before any work requests are made of the local staff. Otherwise, you’ll be asking, and no one will be paying …. and that would disturb one’s conscience. Or should.
Via EEOC Appeal No. 2020003186:
At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Defensive Security  Coordinator, Grade 10, at the Agency’s U.S. Embassy in Yemen. On April 30, 2019, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment on the bases of race (Arabian) and national origin (Yemen) when:

1. Complainant was denied overtime compensation for work he performed since 2015, and as recently as April 3, 2019;

2. Complainant has been denied a higher base salary level commensurate with his other American citizen colleagues; and
3. He was subjected to a hostile work environment, characterized by, but not limited to, his supervisor’s requests that he return his U.S. government-issued vehicle.  The most recent request was March 18, 2019.
Complainant was hired by the Agency in 2010, as a Local Hire under the Local Hire Program at the U.S. Embassy. Complainant has dual citizenship; he was born in Yemen and became an American citizen on September 22, 2006. He averred management knew his race and national origin because he was a Local Hire.

Claim 1 – Denial of Overtime (OT) Compensation since 2015

Complainant claimed that he held two different positions with the Agency. First, Complainant stated that he performed Defensive Security Coordinator duties from January 2014 to July 2019. Complainant stated that he had been granted overtime for years in this position prior to the Embassy’s evacuation in 2015. Secondly, Complainant claimed that he performed Regional Security Officer (RSO)/Team Lead duties from February 2015 to November 2015. Complainant claimed that his duties increased after taking on that role. Complainant alleged that he was called at all hours of the day and night.


On February 12, 2015, the Embassy where he worked was forced to evacuate. Shortly thereafter, in March, war ensued. After Complainant worked to coordinate the evacuation, he returned to the U.S. The Embassy suspended operations in 2015. The record indicates that Complainant’s entire work history was destroyed along with all other employee files that were kept onsite. The record indicates, however, that he remained on the Agency rolls until July 2019.


Complainant stated that after the evacuation, his work continued and he says his responsibilities escalated, but he was not fairly compensated. Complainant alleged that he sent an email to management officials, including his supervisor at the time (S1-2), listing all of the dates he worked overtime but he received no response. Further, Complainant claimed that he was told that they would try to process it, but he might have to wait until the Embassy reopened.


S1-2 acknowledged that Complainant held the Defensive Security Coordinator position and was eligible for overtime, but only with a prior authorization from his supervisor. He averred that he was the one to approve, but he averred “no requests for overtime were made.” S1-2 further confirmed, however, that Complainant provided information in support of his claim for 1,952 hours of overtime. S1-2 said that he forwarded the overtime claim to the Department and asked Complainant for further documentation.


Complainant submitted an email to his supervisor regarding his overtime on December 12, 2018, and after he did not receive a reply, he reached out to the Office of Civil Rights.

He received a reply on April 3, 2019. In the response, S1-2 informed Complainant that there was no record or documentation regarding his overtime requests or preapproval for the overtime as was required. Therefore, there was no basis to grant the overtime pay.

Claim 2 – Denial of Higher Compensation Given to American Colleagues

While working in the RSO section, Complainant believed that he was entitled to a higher base salary. Complainant averred that he should have received a new contract, inasmuch as he was promised a promotion. Complainant alleged that his former supervisor (S1-1) tasked him with controlling everything but did not ensure that he was compensated fairly. In addition, Complainant alleged that numerous officials over the years failed to ensure that he was compensated fairly or transition his job status. Complainant asserted that all of the issues stemmed from the fact that he was hired as a Locally Employed Staff. Complainant averred that, unlike his non-Arabian colleagues, he had to pay for his family to evacuate Yemen because of the war, but the government paid for the other employees’ families to evacuate. Complainant state that he was also put on at least one Reduction-in-Force list, but the notice was rescinded.
[…]
Complainant averred that he thought he could “work his way up” because of his American citizenship status. He acknowledged that he was hired as a Locally Employed Staff employee, which does not have a Career Ladder progression.

Claim 3 – Hostile Work Environment/Demand for Vehicle Return

Before the February 2015 evacuation of the Embassy where Complainant worked, he had been assigned a vehicle. The car is still parked at his relatives’ home in Yemen. When he and others were forced to flee in 2015, it was assumed that he would be able to come back in about a month.
He averred the Agency stopped him from going back because of the risks for him. On February 4, 2019, S1-2 issued a directive that the car be returned to service. The two communicated via email during the period February 23, 2019 to March 14, 2019. Complainant told him that he
feared his family would be placed in danger if the vehicle was retrieved. To protect his family still in Yemen, Complainant asked for certain safeguards. There were no further communications after April 2019.
[…]
In the decision, the Agency found that Complainant was not subjected to discrimination as alleged.
[…]
Upon review of the record, we find that Complainant has not presented sufficient argument or evidence to establish that the Agency’s explanations for its actions were pretext intended to mask discriminatory motivation. As a result, we find that Complainant was not subjected to the discrimination as alleged.

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Court Orders @StateDept to “Reserve” Diversity Visas From FY20/FY21, State/CA Guidance to Follow

 

Via State/CA:
The Department of State is aware of the various court orders regarding the reservation of DV-2020 and DV-2021 diversity visas, which are briefly summarized below. We will publish public guidance on this website regarding the Department’s plan for complying with these orders as it becomes available.
On August 17, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Gomez v. Biden ordered the Department to “process DV-2020 applications in random order until all 9,905 diversity visas have been granted.” However as of September 30, 2021, the Court had not issued a final order establishing a time frame for processing.
On September 27, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Rai v. Biden ordered the Department of State to “reserve 966 diversity visa numbers of applicants awaiting adjudication at the twenty-seven embassies and posts previously subject to Proclamations 9984 and 10143 and Defendants’ regional No-Visa Policy.”
On September 30, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in the Goodluck v. Biden-related matters ordered the Department of State to “reserve 6,914 diversity visas for adjudication pending final judgment in the Goodluck-related matters.”
On September 30, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in the Goh v. Biden ordered the Department of State to “to make 481 diversity visas available for adjudication” and to “adjudicate those diversity visas by the close of Fiscal Year 2022.”
In the GOH decision, the Court writes:
“The court (once again) appreciates the efforts of State Department officials and employees  who have processed diversity visas to comply with the court’s injunction, but those efforts “do not obviate the need for additional relief.” Id. Unless additional relief is granted, the shortfall of visas issued for Fiscal Year 2021 from the historic average will be dramatic. Some of that shortfall is no doubt due to the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic is not the primary culprit. That would be the State Department’s complete cessation of adjudicating diversity visa applications for five months and its unlawful deprioritizing of those applications when adjudications resumed.”
Below are the related court orders:
Civil Action No. 2020-1419 GOMEZ et al v. TRUMP et al
Civil Action No. 2021-0863 RAI et al v. BIDEN et al
Civil Action No. 2021-1530 GOODLUCK et al v. BIDEN, JR. et al
Civil Action No. 2021-0999 GOH et al v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE et al

 

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Havana Syndrome: Did the NSA Say It Was Crickets, Too, in 2014?

2016-2018 (JASON Report Released via FOIA)
JASON report: “Acoustic Signals and Physiological Effect on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba”

2020 (Report Released by National Academy of Sciences)
An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies

2016-2019 (Released via FOIA in 2019)

“Cuba Unexplained Events Investigation—Final Report: Havana, Cuba, August 2016 to March 2019,”

2018: JAMA

Neurological Manifestations Among US Government Personnel Reporting Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana, Cuba

2014 (NSA Case)

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Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote Resigns in Protest, @StateDept & Friends Mount Concerted Attack

 

Back in July when the State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Foote as Special Envoy to Haiti, it said, “Special Envoy Foote brings extensive diplomatic experience to this role – including as Deputy Chief of Mission in Haiti and as the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia. The Department congratulates Special Envoy Foote as he takes on his new role and thanks him for his continued service to his country.”
Today, as his resignation in protest over Haiti policy became public, the State Department as well as the Biden White House are mounting a concerted effort to smack him down.  The spoxes in Foggy Bottom and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue both had something to say; it was not to thank him for his brief service as special envoy.
State Department spox Ned Price in his statement said …”not all ideas are good ideas.” The WH spox Jen Psaki said that Ambassador  Foote’s views were put forward, and they were were valued, they were heard …”. Also that “Special Envoy Foote had ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration … He never once did so.”
The State Department’s number #2 official, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman took time out from her busy schedule to give an exclusive interview to @McClatchy about this resignation – “You know, one of the ideas that Mr. Foote had was to send the U.S. military back to Haiti,” Sherman said. “It just was a bad idea.” she said. Then she said what the State Dept spox already said in his statement: “Some of those proposals were harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy….”. For him to say the proposals were ignored were, I’m sad to say, simply false,” Sherman said. She did say, you know, that she’s sad to say that.
Also Secretary Blinken being Tony and nice just said “I really understand the passion that comes with this.”
So then according to one reporter, an unnamed senior Biden Administration official also claimed that Ambassador Foote has a “toxic personality” & that Foote would often “shout people down and cut people off.” Toxic and shouty, and cut people off, blah, blah, blah!  And this is all coming out now after he resigned in protest? When are they going to tell us he also kicks his dog?
See, here’s the thing. They’re not just saying his ideas were valued and heard but oh, they were also just bad. But hey, did you know he wanted to send troops back to Haiti? Isn’t that also bad? And in case that doesn’t work, some official told a reporter, that the guy who quit has a toxic personality and was shouty, anyway.
This appears to be the first protest resignation under the Biden Administration. And you can see the all hands effort here. It is likely that 1) they recognized that the Foote letter would  resonate with a lot of people, 2) they’re looking at the domestic component and potential political fallout and 3) this serves as a warning for future dissenters on policy. Had Ambassador Foote just resigned quietly to spend more time with his family, State may have given him their “One Team” Award.
The Miami Herald says Ambassador Foote did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Which makes the parade of named and unnamed characters talking about Foote’s resignation just stark by comparison.
Folks, he quit; he’s done. Why are y’all wasting time on the guy who already left the room?
Meanwhile, your Haiti policy is till a hot mess. Get to work, good grief!
Related posts:

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Blinken’s #HavanaSyndrome Meeting, Also Spratlen is Out as Task Force Advisor

 

On September 3, we blogged about the Havana Syndrome again: Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome.
On September 21, NBC News reported that Secretary Blinken finally did meet with diplomats who were afflicted with the  Havana Syndrome mystery illness. It did not go very well, did it?
Via NBC News:

“It’s just incredibly sad. It’s the worst part of bureaucracy,” one of the diplomats said, describing the call as “identical to so many other phone calls” where they’re told about protocols in place to ensure proper treatment. “It’s so maddening because those protocols aren’t in place — not the way they think they are.”
[…]
A senior State Department official, responding to questions about Blinken’s call with the diplomats, acknowledged that there’s “frustration” among the group about a perceived stigma or lack of empathy by their colleagues, but said it did not extend to those at the top.

“That’s certainly not the case with the secretary and the senior leadership,” the official said in an interview. “Everyone is taking it seriously as a real issue that is affecting people who are experiencing real symptoms.”

Which members of the senior leadership is the SDO official talking about?

Diplomats told NBC News they were dismayed that Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, tapped by the Biden administration to oversee the State Department’s response, declined to conclusively rule out the mass hysteria theory.
[…]
One diplomat on the call described that response as “invalidating and inconsiderate.” Another said that Spratlen was “very clearly saying that she has not ruled out that we’re crazy.”  “In the end, we were interrupting Spratlen to try to get people in” to speak, a third diplomat on the call said. “It was ugly.”

Folks, if they’re talking about protocols in place that aren’t in place almost seven months after Blinken took office, then one can’t help but agree that Secretary Blinken is treating this “as an afterthought” as per former Senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos.
Another reason why we agree? Ambassador Spratlen who was appointed as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force back in March is reportedly leaving after six months on the job. “The State Department says she’d reached her threshold of allowed labor hours under her status as a retiree.
Well, dammit! So Foggy Bottom did not know that she’s going to max out on her allowed labor hours? Excuse me, did they think this job is going to be done after 950 hours on the job? (Also see Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer). Note that State Department’s re-employed annuitant employees can work no more than 1,040 hours during their appointment year.
McClatchy says that Blinken “considers choosing her [Spratlen’s] replacement an important decision, a senior State Department official said.
“The secretary has been seized with this issue even before he became secretary,” the official said. “One of the meetings he proactively requested before the transition was on this issue.”
Oh holymoly guacamole, give it a rest PR people! This is an old, old tired trick, even an old dog would not pick up this stick!
Frankly, this is  getting to be so exhausting! Look. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter if Secretary Blinken requested “proactively” a meeting on the Havana Syndrome issue BEFORE the transition.
In fact, the next State Department official to bring up Blinken’s request for a Havana Syndrome briefing before the transition should be promptly fired for persistently living in the past.
What matters is — what Blinken is doing about this issue NOW.

New Havana Syndrome Hotspots — U.S. Embassies in Germany and Austria

 

 

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