US Embassy Santo Domingo: Man Pleads Guilty to One Count of Bribery of a Public Official

On September 14, USDOJ announced that Luis Santos of New Jersey pleaded guilty to bribing a State Department employee.  Santos admitted to paying $2,381 to a U.S. Consular Adjudicator at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.

Bergen County, New Jersey, Man Admits Bribing State Department Employee

TRENTON, N.J. – A Bergen County, New Jersey, man today admitted giving a bribe to an employee of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Luis Santos, 37, of Teaneck, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of bribery of a public official.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

Santos paid $2,381 to a U.S. Consular Adjudicator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to favorably handle and review non-immigrant visas, which allowed individuals from the Dominican Republic to apply for entry into the United States.

The bribery charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the U.S Department of State Diplomatic Security Service with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen D. Stringer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

Defense counsel: Thomas Ambrosio Esq., Lyndhurst, New Jersey

*

Based on court filings (PDF), a cooperating witness (“CW”) was employed by the State Department as a U.S Consular Adjudicator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

2. From on or about September 22, 2017 to on or about March 9, 2018, SANTOS contacted the CW via WhatsApp and solicited the CW to participate in a bribery and fraud scheme, whereby SANTOS would pay money to the CW in exchange for the CW favorably handling and adjudicating fraudulent NIVs.

3. Throughout in or about February 2018, SANTOS sent the CW, via WhatsApp messaging, the names and appointment confirmations for five NIV Applicants, all of whom had interviews scheduled with the U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo in or about March 2018 ( collectively, the “March Applicants”). SANTOS offered to pay the CW $500 for each fraudulent NIV issued to one of the March Applicants.

4. On or about February 25, 2018, SANTOS and the CW met in Hoboken, New Jersey (the “Hoboken Meeting”). During that meeting, which was consensually recorded by law enforcement, SANTOS confirmed that the March Applicants would pay $1,000 each for their fraudulent NIVs, and that the money would be split three ways, with a portion going to the CW in exchange for the CW favorably reviewing and adjudicating the five NIVs.

5. Law enforcement arranged for the issuance of what appeared to be genuine visas for the March Applicants. Accordingly, when each of the March Applicants appeared for their respective interviews, they were informed that their applications had been approved.

6. On or about March 9, 2018, SANTOS caused a relative in the Dominican Republic to wire $2,380.95 ($2,500 less the transfer service processing fee) to the CW via a money transferring service in exchange for the approval of NIVs for the five March Applicants.

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US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Gets 30 Months For Stealing USG Funds #VisaFees

This past July, we blogged about US Embassy Costa Rica’s sub-contractor who leaded guilty to the theft of visa fees (see What did we miss?).  On September 7, USDOJ announced that the contractor, Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft of government funds.

Via USDOJ:

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica, was sentenced to a term of 30 months in prison by the United States District Court in Charleston for stealing from the United States Government.

Hidalgo previously pled guilty to Theft of Government Funds, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641.  United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, of Charleston, imposed the sentence, which also includes three years of supervised release and mandatory restitution.

Evidence presented at a change of plea hearing established that Hidalgo used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $293,832 of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control.

The case was investigated by special agent Katherine Kovacek of the Department of State/Office of Inspector General, which is led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorneys Marshall “Matt” Austin and Nathan Williams both of the Charleston Office prosecuted the case.

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Consular Officer Asks Visa Applicant: “Why don’t you have a Pulitzer Prize?”

Other questions to ask:

  • Why are you not a super model?
  • Why are you not a MacArthur Fellow?
  • Why are you not a 10?
  • Why don’t you have swagger like Shakespeare?

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@StateDept’s Immigrant Visa Processing Portal #CEAC Down For 10 Days Now

Posted: 1:15 pm PT
Update: July 31, 2:32 | It looks like the CEAC website is once again functional as of today.  

 

The State Department’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) for immigrant visas has been down since at least July 20th.  We can confirm that the service affected is specific to immigrant visa applicants and does not affect nonimmigrant visa applications.  We understand from a source that  the National Visa Center (NVC) that is using the website to allow applicants to send their paperwork to the consulates doesn’t have any information about the reasons or the possible timeframe on when it will be back on. We were told although we’re unable to confirm that “appointments have been canceled this time as well and it affected every consulate in the world that is using the new “faster” digital processing system.”

On July 26, we requested clarification from the Consular Affairs bureau if this is a scheduled maintenance and if they have a time frame when this will be completed. The following is a comment we received from a State Department official on background in response to our inquiry:

The Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) Immigrant Visa web portal is currently unavailable due to maintenance. During this time, IV applicants will be unable to access/login to the CEAC Immigrant Visa Agent (DS-261), Online Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260), or the Immigrant Visa Fee Payment portal. The CEAC Immigrant Visa application Status Check and Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) are not impacted by this maintenance. For urgent cases that are already at an overseas post, applicants may be asked to complete a paper-based immigrant visa application (DS-230), which will be provided by the local consulate or embassy. We regret the inconvenience to travelers and recognize the hardship for those waiting for visas, and in some cases, their family members or employers in the United States, during this maintenance period.

A quick scan of a few u.s. embassies’ visa webpages indicate no announcement of the system’s unavailability, however, travelstate.gov does have a highlighted announcement at the top of its page that says:

Immigrant visa forms and fee payments are currently unavailable in the Consular Electronic Application Center. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working to resolve this and hope to have the system fully functional as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

Apparently, some attorneys who made inquiries were told that a planned weekend update to the system resulted in an unexpected “catastrophic failure.” On July 27, travel.state.gov tweeted the following but we’re nowhere near in learning if this was a regularly scheduled update that gone bad, if there are other technical issues, or what is the time frame for bringing this system back online.

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@StateDept Revises Downward Its Consular Revenue Forecasts

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

The State Department’s FY2019 Budget Proposal discusses Consular Affairs:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) supports U.S. national security objectives by protecting the interests of U.S. citizens overseas, strengthening border security, and facilitating legitimate travel to the United States. CA provides routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens overseas, adjudicates U.S. passport and visa applications, and undertakes fraud prevention and detection efforts. Together with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Intelligence Community, the Department of the Treasury, and the Law Enforcement Community, the Department has built a layered visa and border security screening system that rests on training, technological advances, biometric innovations, and expanded data sharing.

Revenue from Department-retained consular fees and surcharges funds CBSP activities. The fees and surcharges collected and retained for consular services include: Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) surcharges, Passport Security surcharges, Immigrant Visa (IV) Security surcharges, Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery fees, Fraud Prevention and Detection (H&L) fees, and Affidavit of Support (AoS) Review fees. Each consular fee or surcharge is used to fund CBSP programs and activities consistent with the applicable statutory authority.

We understand that since the beginning of FY 2013, the Consular and Border Security programs (CBSP) was completely funded using consular fees collected and retained by CA, that is, congressionally appropriated funds were not used for CA operations.

Consular Affairs charges user fees for many of the consular services it provides to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, including fees for services associated with passport issuance and non-immigrant visa processing/issuance. Congress permits the State Department to collect and retain revenue generated from certain consular fees, but the bureau is required by law to remit other amounts collected for consular fees to the Department of the Treasury. The retained consular fees are used to fund the Consular and Border Security Program (CBSP).

Consular and Border Security Programs

During FY 2014, the State Department collected $3.7 billion in consular fees. The revenue is generated primarily from the issuance of 467,370 immigrant visas and 9,932,480 nonimmigrant (temporary) visas and border cards. Note that the State Department only releases its visa issuance number and does not provide a public accounting of the total number of visa applicants. Visa processing fees are collected from all applicants (with few exceptions), and visa issuance fees are collected from certain countries based on reciprocity. (PDF)

In FY 2015, the Department collected $4.1 billion in consular fees that came from immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants including 531,463 immigrant (permanent) visas issuance and 10,891,745 nonimmigrant (temporary) visas and border cards issuance. FY2015 is the first time, nonimmigrant visa issuances hit the 10 million mark. (PDF)

We should point out that the consular revenue came from many different fees that cover a variety of services, like fraud prevention fees that are charged to particular visa applicants to fees charged to American citizens for expedited processing of passports. Consular revenue also includes surcharges that are imposed on some services. According to State/OIG, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee includes a legislatively imposed $2 surcharge to support programs to combat human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Trends

For the last several years until 2016, there had been an upward trend in visa demands. In 2012, the USG recognized the growth of foreign visitors from emerging economies with growing middle classes in China, Brazil and India. Then President Obama tasked the Department with increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012; and ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application (see Visa Hot Love for China and Brazil, Why No Hot Love for Mexico?).

For immigrant visas, the  issuance trend went down in FY2014, then went up in FY2015 and FY2016. In FY2017,  the issuance went down by over 58K. We don’t know at this time what function, if any, or how much, the Trump travel ban contributed to the decrease.

For nonimmigrant visas, the upward trend continued from FY2013-FY2015, then started dipping in FY2016. The decrease in number of nonimmigrant visa issuances continued in FY2017. The chart below also indicates a decrease of over 32,000 in border crossing card issuances in FY2017. To get a sense of what this means in direct U.S. dollars, check the consular fees here for visa services.

The State Department’s FY2019 Budget Proposal recognizes what could be a trend, telling Congress that “Due to new decreased revenue forecasts, the spending plans for FY 2018 have been revised downward from the FY2018 Request. Decreased spending is anticipated within the Bureau of Consular Affairs, partner bureaus, and other support activities.”

The Trump Administration has now submitted two budget proposals to Congress that include deep cuts to the State Department and USAID’s budgets. We have no reason to believe that its proposals for FY2020 and FY2021 would look anything different. But if what we’re seeing in consular workload is the start of a downward trend in revenue, the State Department could be in for a double whammy.

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Ex-FSO Michael Sestak Released From Prison on January 4, 2018

Posted: 2:33  am ET

 

In August 2015, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 44, was sentenced to 64 months in prison on federal charges in a scheme where he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States. The Federal Bureau of Prisons locator indicates that he was scheduled to be released from prison on January 4, 2018. The 2015 USDOJ announcement notes that following his prison term, Sestak will be placed on three years of supervised release.

See this piece on the Sestak case. See below our posts on this case with some unanswered questions.

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Avoidable Mess: U.S. to Help Chad After “Important Partner” Withdraws Troops From Niger Following Visa Sanctions

Posted: 3:33 am ET
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On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries, including Chad. See Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia:.

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Via BuzzFeed: Experts from the State Department to humanitarian organizations were stunned when the Chad was added to the travel ban in late September. The country is home to a US military facility and just hosted an annual 20-nation military exercise with the US military’s Africa Command to strengthen local forces to fight extremist insurgents. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is the headquarters of the five-country Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram.

What kind of visa numbers do we have for Chad? For temporary nonimmigrant visas the last five fiscal years, see below via travel.state.gov:

FY2016: 1,355 | FY2015: 1,352 | FY2014: 1,294 |  FY2013: 731 |  FY2012: 624

So given Chad’s counterterrorism cooperation, and the carved out already given to Iraq in the September 24 order, why was Chad included in the visa restrictions?  FP proposes this:

One possible explanation for this discrepancy, which would be preposterous in any administration except this one, is that the architects of the ban, having repeatedly heard the phrases “Boko Haram” and “Lake Chad” in the same sentence, assumed that Chad must be the epicenter of Boko Haram. (Lake Chad in fact lies on the border of Chad and three other countries, and Boko Haram is mostly confined to northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southeastern Niger.)
[…]
In the wake of the new travel ban announcement on Sept. 24, Chad has withdrawn hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where up to 2,000 of its soldiers were part of a coalition battling Boko Haram. The Chadian government has not yet offered an official explanation for the pullout, but Communications Minister Madeleine Alingué condemned Chad’s inclusion on the travel ban, saying that it “seriously undermines” the “good relations between the two countries, notably in the fight against terrorism.”
[…]
The Chadian president is likely betting that with his forces withdrawn from Niger, the Trump administration will quickly come to appreciate his country’s security contributions and remove it from the list.

But it turns out — Chad had simply run out of passport paper!

AP’s Josh Lederman writes that Chad lacked the passport paper and offered to furnish the U.S. with a pre-existing sample of the same type of passport, but it was not enough to persuade DHS.  A congressional official told the AP that DHS working with the White House “pushed Chad onto the list without significant input from the State Department or the Defense Department.” 

Without significant input from agencies with people on the ground in Chad. If we were in Chad’s shoes, wouldn’t we do exactly the same? Obviously, being called an “important partner” does not make up for having your citizens banned from traveling to the other country. The action telegraphed careless disregard of the relationship, and Chad most likely, will not forget this easily. “Remember that time when the U.S. put Chad on the visa sanctions list while we have 2,000 soldiers fighting in Niger?” Yep, they’ll remember. We actually would like to know who among the local contacts showed up for the new embassy dedication, by the way (see @StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad).

The DHS/WH architects of these visa bans/sanctions really are the best people with the best brains, hey?

Federal court has now issued a TRO for the latest travel restrictions that includes Chad. So basically, a carefully constructed bilateral relationship ends up in a mess, and it was all for nothing.

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@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!

Posted: 1:41 pm PT
Updated: 2:02 pm PT
Updated: October 13, 5:15 pm PT
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The annual Diversity Visa Lottery registration period opened October 3, 2017 and closes on November 7, 2017. We understand that the registration site (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down since at least Sunday. Today the site has a “Down for Maintenance” banner. The question we’ve been asked: The State Department has 45 weeks a year to get the site ready for the five week registration period. Now it’s down for maintenance, what’s going on? We’ve asked. We will update if we hear anything back.

Update#1:
We understand that this could be a technical issue, but we have yet to hear an official response to our inquiry or a public statement from the State Department.

Update#2: A State Department official speaking on background told us “There is a technical problem requiring maintenance and the site will be brought back up as soon as possible.” When asked about the specifics of the technical problem or the time frame when they expect the issue resolved, the official declined to provide additional details. 

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U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee

Posted: 4:15 am ET
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We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.”  The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.

Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.”  On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.

Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?

In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.

Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.

But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?

Dual Turk-American Citizens

There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.

Okay — So Why the Why?

Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt,  or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of  the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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