U.S. Embassy Hanoi Starts Vietnam Adoption Processing Through the Special Adoption Program

— Domani Spero
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Last month, the the United States started processing the  Hague Convention adoptions from Vietnam through the Special Adoption Program. Two U.S. adoption service providers – Dillon International and Holt International Children’s Services, were selected and granted by the Government of Vietnam licenses to operate intercountry adoption program for children with special needs, children aged five and older, and children in biological sibling groups (Special Adoption Program).  According to Embassy Hanoi, the ceremony held on September 16, 2014 also marks the effective date for the United States to start processing Hague Convention adoptions from Vietnam through the Special Adoption Program. Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

Inter-country adoption between the United States and Vietnam has been inactive since 2008. Since that time, Vietnam has strengthened its commitment to reforming its adoption system. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) entered into force for Vietnam on February 1, 2012. The Government of Vietnam has taken a number of steps to improve its implementation of the Convention, particularly in adoptions of children with special needs and for older children and biological sibling groups. A new adoption law, implementing decree, and related circulars have been passed and are being implemented. The United States welcomes Vietnam’s efforts to enhance its child welfare and intercountry adoption system and has now determined that, through the Special Adoption Program, it will be able to process Convention adoptions from Vietnam. However, the United States will not process Convention adoptions from Vietnam that fall outside the parameters of the Special Adoption Program. We will continue to monitor the Vietnamese child welfare program to determine if the intercountry adoption program can be expanded.

Below is Tiffany Murphy, the Chief of the Consular Section of the U.S Embassy in Hanoi announcing the content of the adoption program between the two countries. Via Vietnam International Television VTV4

Click here for the adoption information from DHS/USCIS.

 

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Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Briefs — Published August 2014

— Domani Spero
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Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.

-08/29/14   Latin America and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress  [598 Kb]
-08/29/14   Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress  [433 Kb]
-08/29/14   Special Immigrant Juveniles: In Brief  [317 Kb]
-08/29/14   Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990  [646 Kb]
-08/28/14   The “1033 Program,” Department of Defense Support to Law Enforcement  [234 Kb]
-08/28/14   The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: A Possible Threat to Jordan? – CRS Insights  [84 Kb]
-08/28/14   Unaccompanied Children from Central America: Foreign Policy Considerations  [451 Kb]
-08/27/14   The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions  [436 Kb]
-08/27/14   The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)  [53 Kb]
-08/26/14   Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues  [452 Kb]
-08/26/14   NATO’s Wales Summit: Expected Outcomes and Key Challenges  [317 Kb]
-08/26/14   The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: International and U.S. Responses  [625 Kb]
-08/21/14   China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States  [646 Kb]
-08/20/14   Climate Change and Existing Law: A Survey of Legal Issues Past, Present, and Future  [514 Kb]
-08/20/14   The “Militarization” of Law Enforcement and the Department of Defense’s “1033 Program” – CRS Insights  [66 Kb]
-08/19/14   Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances  [504 Kb]
-08/19/14   Iran Sanctions  [709 Kb]
-08/15/14   Domestic Terrorism Appears to Be Reemerging as a Priority at the Department of Justice – CRS Insights  [97 Kb]
-08/15/14   Latin America: Terrorism Issues  [530 Kb]
-08/15/14   Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach to Congress [656 Kb]
-08/15/14   Same-Sex Marriage: A Legal Background After United v. Windsor  [234 Kb]
-08/15/14   State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2015 Budget and Appropriations  [558 Kb]
-08/14/14   The U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa and Futenma Base Controversy  [654 Kb]
-08/13/14   U.S. – Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 113th Congress  [408 Kb]
-08/12/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [497 Kb]
-08/08/14   Ebola: 2014 Outbreak in West Africa – CRS In Focus  [243 Kb]
-08/08/14   Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy  [578 Kb]
-08/08/14   U.S. – Vietnam Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: Issues for Congress  [336 Kb]
-08/07/14   Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations [449 Kb]
-08/07/14   India’s New Government and Implications for U.S. Interests  [310 Kb]
-08/07/14   Reducing the Budget Deficit: Overview of Policy Issues  [410 Kb]
-08/07/14   U.S. – EU Cooperation on Ukraine and Russia – CRS Insights  [135 Kb]
-08/06/14   2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: Evolution of Strategic Review – CRS Insights  [243 Kb]
-08/05/14   China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress  [4552 Kb]
-08/05/14   Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress  [1348 Kb]
-08/05/14   Safe at Home? Letting Ebola-Stricken Americans Return – CRS Insights  [195 Kb]
-08/04/14   Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-08/01/14   “Womenomics” in Japan: In Brief  [232 Kb]
-08/01/14   Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress  [539 Kb]
-08/01/14   Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations  [907 Kb] 

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FSO Michael T. Sestak Pleads Guilty in Visa Fraud-Bribery Case, Faces 19-24 Years in Prison

— Domani Spero

On November 6, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  The Government alleged that the visa scheme had netted more than $9 million in bribes (see related posts below) and that Mr. Sestak had personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand. No sentencing date has been set but Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

Related posts:

Via USDOJ:

WASHINGTON  A U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 42, pled guilty today to conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering charges in a scheme in which he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States.

The guilty plea, which took place in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service Director Gregory B. Starr.

Sestak pled guilty before the Honorable John D. Bates to one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud and to defraud the United States, bribery of a public official, and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from illegal activity. No sentencing date was set. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the applicable range for the offenses is 235 to 293 months in prison.

Under the plea agreement, Sestak has agreed to the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crimes, which includes the sale of nine properties that he purchased in Thailand with his ill-gotten gains. He also has agreed to cooperate in a continuing federal investigation.

“Today Michael Sestak admitted taking millions of dollars in bribes to issue visas to allow nearly 500 foreign nationals to enter the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “This Foreign Service Officer corrupted the integrity of a process designed to screen visitors to the United States, a process that obviously has implications for our national security.  His motivation for betraying his oath of office was cold, hard cash, as he personally received more than $3 million in this visa-for-cash scam, much of which he funneled into the purchase of nine properties in Thailand.  Mr. Sestak has now accepted responsibility for his conduct and is cooperating with federal law enforcement in this continuing investigation.”

“The Department of State became aware of potential visa improprieties in Vietnam and immediately referred the allegations to the Diplomatic Security Service (DS) to investigate, said Director Starr, of the Diplomatic Security Service. “DS worked collaboratively with the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs to identify irregularities in the visa process which allowed agents and consular officials to pursue investigative leads and develop the evidence which led to Mr. Sestak’s guilty plea today.  This case demonstrates how cooperation with DS partners in the region allowed the Department of Justice to pursue charges where Vietnamese citizens were victimized by individuals guided by greed.”

Sestak was arrested on May 13, 2013, and has been in custody ever since. Four others have been charged with taking part in the conspiracy. They include Binh Vo, 39, and his sister, Hong Vo, 27, both American citizens who had been living in Vietnam; Binh Vo’s wife, Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen; and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.

Hong Vo was arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested the following month. Binh Vo was arrested in September 2013. Nguyen remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  Huynh pled guilty on Oct. 16, 2013, to one count of visa fraud and is awaiting sentencing. Binh Vo and Hong Vo have pled not guilty to charges and are held without bond pending trial.

Sestak was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.  His responsibilities included reviewing visa applications, conducting in-person interviews of visa applicants, and issuing visas when appropriate. While employed at the State Department, Sestak held a sensitive position.

In pleading guilty, Sestak admitted that he and Binh Vo met in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 and began a personal friendship. They ultimately came up with a plan to obtain money in exchange for facilitating the approval of non-immigrant visas from Vietnam to the United States. Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers to the visa scheme. Before they appeared at the consulate for visa interviews, Sestak would be informed of the identities of foreign nationals who agreed to pay money in exchange for obtaining visas. He then attempted to issue a visa to each foreign national who had agreed to pay for obtaining a visa, often disregarding the veracity of the information on the application.

Sestak admitted that between February 2012 and September 2012, he caused visas to be approved for people whose applications were part of the scheme.  Payments made by applicants to the conspirators in exchange for visas ranged from $15,000 to $70,000.  Many of the individuals who received visas had been previously denied visas for a variety of reasons.

The entire scheme generated at least $9,780,000.  Of this, Sestak personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand. In an attempt to hide the illegal proceeds of the scheme, Sestak purchased nine real estate properties in Thailand worth over $3 million.  As part of his plea agreement, Sestak agreed to sell these properties and forfeit the proceeds in order to satisfy a portion of the money judgment of at least $6 million that will be entered against him.

Looking forward to hearing what happens to Mr. Sestak’s alleged co-conspirators.  And may his cooperation with the continuing investigation results in tracking down all the fraudulent visa cases he issued and subsequent deportation of those involved.

Also, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the maximum penalty of 24 years among the rotten FSO cases we’ve reviewed.  One of the more notorious visa fraud scandal involving an FSO was that of Thomas Patrick Carroll, a former vice consul at US Embassy Georgetown in Guyana who was arrested in 2000.  He was arrested for selling 800 visas at reportedly US$10,000 – US$15,000 each.  Mr. Carroll did not invest his ill gotten wealth in real estate but according to reports kept some of it in gold bars.  The court originally sentenced Mr. Carroll to 21 years imprisonment in 2002. The prison term was reduced on appeal to 11 years and he was released from prison this past summer.

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USDOJ: AmCit Binh Vo, Alleged Co-Conspirator in Michael Sestak Visa Scandal Arrested at Dulles Airport

— By Domani Spero

We have previously blogged about the visa fraud allegations at the Consulate General in Ho Chi Min City involving FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other alleged co-conspirators.  Court records indicate that an arraignment and motion hearing were held on September 13, 2013 with a status conference scheduled for all three defendants (Sestak, Truc Thanh Huynh and  Hong Chau Vo) for October 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM in Courtroom 30A before Judge John D. Bates.

Related posts:

Meanwhile, on September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  At this time, only one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.  According to USDOJ, a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  Thanh Nien News describes Anhdao Thuy Nguyen as a “bright Vietnamese beauty queen” who “studied for an MBA at the University of Texas in Austin.”  

 

Via USDOJ:

American Citizen Arrested and Charged With Bribery, Visa Fraud and Conspiracy -Scheme Allegedly Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes

WASHINGTON Binh Vo, 39, an American citizen living in Vietnam, has been arrested and charged with bribery, visa fraud and conspiracy to commit those offenses as well as to defraud the United States, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Gregory B. Starr announced today.

Vo appeared this afternoon before the Honorable Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where a criminal indictment was pending against him. He was arrested on Sept. 24, 2013, at Washington Dulles International Airport. Magistrate Judge Facciola ordered that he remain in custody pending further court proceedings.

According to the indictment, Vo conspired with co-defendant Michael Sestak and others to obtain visas to the United States for Vietnamese citizens.  Sestak, 42, was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.

According to the indictment, Vo and Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers – or to recruit other recruiters – to the visa scheme. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised the scheme by creating a website and by spreading the word through emails and telephone calls.

According to the indictment, co-conspirators assisted visa applicants with their applications and prepared them for their consular interviews.  Upon submitting an application, the applicants would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa. Applicants or their families paid Vo between $20,000 and $70,000 per visa.

Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States.  According to affidavits filed in this case, Vo received millions of dollars for arranging for Sestak to approve the visas.  He ultimately moved some of the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States.

To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from conspirators’ accounts in the United States.

Three others have been charged in the scheme.They are Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, and Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, all of whom are charged with conspiring with Sestak and Binh Vo.  Hong Vo is Binh Vo’s sister.  She allegedly assisted with the recruitment of visa applicants and communicated with others about the payment for the fraudulent visas.

According to charging documents, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by Hong Vo. Huynh allegedly participated in the visa scheme by obtaining documents necessary for the visa applications, collecting money and providing model questions and answers for visa applicants.  Sestak also allegedly approved a visa for Huynh to the United States, the application for which was submitted by the IP address controlled by Hong Vo.  Anhdao Thuy Nguyen is Binh Vo’s wife.  She allegedly assisted with recruiting applicants and laundering funds during the course of the conspiracy.

Sestak and Hong Vo were arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested the following month. All remain held without bond pending further proceedings.  Nguyen remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.

An indictment is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson, Christopher Kavanaugh, and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

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Jilted Lover Reportedly Helped Exposed Sestak Visa Scandal – There’s a Hole In Your Wall?

— By Domani Spero

Thanh Nien Daily continues to cover the Michael Sestak case in Vietnam.  A recent update details how a jilted lover, referred to as “Lan” reportedly the anonymous source in the criminal complaint, exposed the $10 million visa fraud allegedly perpetuated by FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other conspirators.

A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.

Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.

[…]

“First I called the consulate, but it wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then I sent them a letter.”

Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.

“I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook,” he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.

[…]

Before Sestak’s arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department—including a longtime fraud investigator.

Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an “anonymous source” for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.

It seems without Lan, there wouldn’t have been any case. But, he says, he’s received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.

He wasn’t exactly easy to handle.

[…]

Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham—whose business card was scanned onto Lan’s website—dismissed the claims.

“We tried to keep him anonymous,” Pham said. “Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything […] If someone is truly being threatened it’s hard for me to believe he’d put everything he told law enforcement out there online.”

Continue reading: Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud. The story is sort of weird but also sad.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10

Photo via state.gov/ds

The thing that is worrisome about this, if  true, is that ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, an RSO dedicated to visa investigations.  If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

Visa issuing posts issue Certifications of Consular Management Controls where the responsible officer certifies not only that the review has been conducted and completed but also identifies areas of non-compliance.

One of the areas routinely reviewed is nonimmigrant visa refusals and issuances. These are reviewed electronically daily by the appropriate supervisors in the chain of command. In cases where the supervisory officer determines that an error was made during initial adjudication, the supervisory officer re-interviews the applicant and speaks with the adjudicating officer prior to adjudicating the case under his/her own login. When this happens, the supervisory officer reportedly is trained to enter a thorough explanation in the system.  Most of the alleged Sestak cases have been refused multiple times prior to issuance. Who reviewed his visa issuances?  Doesn’t the CCD broadcast a red alert when issuances go beyond the average norm particularly in high fraud posts?  Nah?

Another area is the Visa Lookout Accountability (VLA).  Consular supervisors reportedly review (although we don’t know how often), a random sampling of issuances to verify that adjudicating officers comply with VLA procedures. The Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) apparently twice a month also pulls a database generated report that deals with visa issuances over “hits” to ensure that officers are compliant with published guidelines.  If the VLA review and the FPM review also failed to detect these alleged visa shenanigans, then that’s a wall with a big hole.

👀

USCG Ho Chi Minh City’s Visa Fraud Allegations — When Silence Isn’t Golden

— By Domani Spero

We blogged previously about the allegations against Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak who faces charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in an alleged visa-for-money scheme in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. See:

Last weekend, Albany’s Times Union first reported the identity of one of the alleged co-conspirators, Hong Vo, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen who was born and raised in Colorado and reportedly the sister of the unnamed co-conspirator #1.  This individual was arrested on May 8 in Denver according to the Times Union.

With the name of one of the co-conspirators now publicly known, we thought it’s only a matter of time before the dots get connected over in Vietnam. On June 3, Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre News did just that asking, Who was Michael Sestak’s No. 1 aid in visa scam?  The news outlet dug up the purported identity of two co-conspirators related to the individual arrested in Colorado,  co-conspirator #1, a U.S. national and co-conspirator #2, a Vietnamese national married to #1.  Tuoi Tre News even has a photo from the couple’s wedding in Vietnam last year. It also reported that its reporters tried to locate the couple but had been unsuccessful.

On June 4, a 29-year-old Vietnamese citizen, Truc Tranh Huynh, one of Hong Vo’s cousins and one of the alleged co-conspirators was arrested in Washington according to McClatchy. There is also this:

In a previously undisclosed document, prosecutors identified another of the alleged co-conspirators as Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, also known as Alice Nguyen. On May 9, a State Department Diplomatic Security Service special agent, Simon Dinits, filed a warrant to seize money in a brokerage account in Nguyen’s name, claiming it came from visa fraud.

The report on the warrant on a brokerage account allegedly in Anhdao Thuy Nguyen aka Alice Nguyen’s name did not indicate whether she is a U.S. national or Vietnamese.  All the co-conspirators of this alleged scheme have been identified by the local media in Vietnam.  We are only posting the names of the alleged co-conspirators officially identified in U.S. court documents at this time.

Fun times at a wedding

On June 6, Vietnam’s Thanh Nien News located and posted online a video of a lavish wedding in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012 where Mr. Sestak appeared as the groom’s best man.  Sestak appears on the video at the following marks: 0:49; 0:53; 2:32; 3:54 and at 5:16. Excerpt from Thanh Nien News:

[C]lip shows Sestak towering above the rest of the groomsmen in a tailored yellow satin tunic, which he twirled around his finger.  In the video, he accompanies [ …..] in a stretch Cadillac limousine to […] and stands holding a tray of rice wine during a traditional betrothal ceremony.  Then Sestak changed into a suit and accompanied a younger woman in a red dress to the ceremony at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel.

Thanh Nien News’ Calvin Godfrey  has some inside scoop on the Sestak arrest in Thailand in early May:

US Investigators voided Sestak’s diplomatic passport in early May, leading Thai immigration officials to arrest him in Phuket where he had purchased a number of luxury properties. State Department investigators caught up to him at an immigration detention center in Bangkok and interviewed him on tape.

It also has one of the most extensive piece yet on the people allegedly engaged in this conspiracy.  Continue reading here.

We understand from a source familiar with the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City that most of the characters in this alleged conspiracy are well connected to the US Consulate community. We’re told that at least three of the alleged co-conspirators were frequent attendees of consulate functions. In addition, Co-conspirator #1 is or was the head of one of the moving companies used by the consulate’s GSO for pack out and shipping services.  By coincidence, USCG HCMC announced last month a solicitation  for Packing and Shipping Service of personal effects.

We should note that the consulate general staff, including all agencies, is nearly two-thirds as large as the staff at Embassy Hanoi.

FSNs “Dismissed” in September 2012

This past week, Tuoi Tre News has another report with quotes from a former FSN of the Non-Immigrant Visa Section of US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Apparently, this former 14-year staff member, who identified herself as H. was one of the local employees who were dismissed in September 2012.

A source confirmed that four FSNs were fired at USCG HCMC last year.  When asked specifically about the FSNs firing, the US Embassy in Vietnam and the Bureau of Consular affairs declined to comment.

Via Tuoi Tre News

“I personally was rewarded US$50 for discovering counterfeit school reports and house and land papers… However, in the period before Sestak returned to the US, all of us fell under suspicion,” H said.
[…]
Now that the visa fraud scheme has been uncovered, H. and her former co-workers wonder whether or not the suspicions of the American towards them have been eliminated.

Tuoi Tre News  also reported on allegations of visa wrongdoings in the consulate general’s immigrant visa section:

“It is a common thing to see Vietnamese staffs there dismissed. In some cases, many employees are fired at the same time for visa-related mistakes,” the source said.

Meanwhile, cases of visa wrongdoings involving American officers are usually handled silently, with almost no related information being disclosed, according to the source.

When Sestak left the consulate, at least eight officers from the immigrant visa department were suspended pending investigation of their alleged offenses.

We have not been able to corroborate if there is a pending investigation of the IV unit. Suffice to say that if there was enough evidence for the court, the DSS would have done its job.

So, who did the requisite adjudication reviews?

All this makes one wonder – who was reviewing the visa issuances and refusals at HCMC? Isn’t there a requisite adjudication review of nonimmigrant visa issuances and refusals?  Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has implemented a wide variety of changes that have tightened the NIV adjudication process, including but not limited to improving executive office oversight by requiring visa chief and deputy chief of mission review of visa adjudications.

9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 requires that supervisors review as many nonimmigrant visa (NIV) refusals as is practical, but not fewer than 20% of refusals. “Such a review is a significant management and instructional tool and is useful in maintaining the highest professional standards of adjudication. It helps ensure uniform and correct application of the law and regulations.”

Since HCMC is not an an embassy, who at the Consulate General was required to perform these adjudication reviews?

When silence isn’t golden

So far, the US Mission in Vietnam appears to go on as if nothing has happened.  On May 31, USCG HCMC posted this online: FIVE PLAY Jazz Quintet to Perform in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. On June 4, both posts  had this: June 4, 2013 — U.S.-Supported Campaign to Fight Intestinal Worms Reaches over 900,000 Children.

Neither the embassy in Hanoi nor the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City has posted any official statement regarding the visa fraud allegations. It did release the ‘blandest amidst a crisis’ statement  about the upcoming busy travel season:

With the busy summer student and travel season fast approaching, the U.S. Mission in Vietnam would like to remind potential Vietnamese travelers that the Department of State is committed to facilitating the legitimate travel of individuals who want to visit the United States.  At the same time, we must ensure that applicants are both qualified for the visa and do not pose a security risk to the United States.  Applicants should remember to apply early to avoid possible travel delays during this busy season.    

Already Thanh Nien News reports about The big visa scam and writes, “For years, I’ve heard vague rumors that visas could be bought or simply granted if you knew the right people….those rumors were true.”

Because that’s just what you want read all over the country without any response.

Tuoi Tre News, which is originally a publication of the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union according to Wikipedia has grown to become the largest newspaper in Vietnam also pokes Uncle Sam:

The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General in Vietnam have yet to issue any official statement about this issue despite Tuoi Tre’s efforts to obtain comment.

It is possible that the missions are trying to handle this crisis, but one of the most basic lessons on crisis management is transparency and a quick response to queries, which the U.S. has preached about.

And it is necessary to answer questions about the Sestak scandal, even though it could simply be an isolated case.

Last weekend and Monday were U.S. holidays, but it is quite puzzling that the embassy and the consulate have not responded to any phone calls, emails, or faxes from Tuoi Tre since Tuesday.

We cannot expect embassy/consulate officials to speak publicly about the specific allegations against Mr. Sestak since this is now a court case.  But everyone is talking about the big elephant in the Vietnamese living room, and the US Mission has put itself out of the conversation. What is wrong about putting out a statement about the rule of law, about presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and  about how seriously the USG tackles visa malfeasance wherever it happens or whoever commits it?

Some of these cases can last a year or two in the U.S. court system; this is not going to end soon.  By not releasing an official statement, by not acknowledging there is/was a problem — it looks bad from this end, and possibly worse from the the eyes of visa applicants who had to shell $160 non-refundable fees for 2-minute interviews.  We’re sure the mission does not want to be perceived as sweeping  allegations under the rug or being indifferent to the legitimate interests and concerns of its paying clients.

The simple fact is — this is one case where silence isn’t golden.

(‘_’)

USDOJ: FSO Michael Todd Sestak Charged With Conspiracy to Defraud and Conspiracy to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud

We have blogged previously about this case:

On June 4, the Department of Justice released the following statement:

U.S. Foreign Service Officer Charged With Conspiracy To Defraud the United States and to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud – Scheme Allegedly Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes-

WASHINGTON – A U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael Todd Sestak, 41, has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Gregory B. Starr announced today.

Sestak appeared this afternoon before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was arrested on May 13, 2013, in California and had been ordered held without bond following a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He was removed to the District of Columbia, where the criminal complaint, dated May 6, 2013, was filed against him. Magistrate Judge Robinson ordered that he remain in custody pending further court proceedings.

According to the government’s evidence, Sestak was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.

The investigation revealed that, beginning sometime in or around March 2012, Sestak agreed to approve visas to the United States for a fee.  According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, he conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers – or to recruit other recruiters – to the visa scheme. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised a money-back guarantee for a visa to the United States.  They particularly advertised that they could obtain visas for people who would not be able to obtain a visa on their own, such as people who had been previously denied or refused entry into the U.S.  They encouraged customers with the idea that they could overstay their visas and disappear in the United States.

The affidavit alleges that co-conspirators assisted visa applicants with their applications and prepared them for their consular interviews.  Upon submitting an application, the applicants would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa.  Applicants or their families paid between $20,000 and $70,000 per visa.

Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States.  According to the affidavit, Sestak received several million dollars in bribes in exchange for approving the visas.  He ultimately moved the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States, the affidavit alleges.

To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from a co-conspirator’s investment account in the United States.

Two women have been charged in the scheme.They are Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, who are charged with conspiring with Sestak and others. Vo allegedly assisted with the recruitment of visa applicants and communicated with others about the payment for the fraudulent visas. According to charging documents, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by Vo. Huynh allegedly participated in the visa scheme by obtaining documents necessary for the visa applications, collecting money and providing model questions and answers for visa applicants.  Sestak also allegedly approved a visa for Huynh to the United States, the application for which was submitted by the IP address controlled by Vo.

Vo was recently arrested in Denver and is being held there while awaiting removal to the District of Columbia. Huynh was arrested June 3, 2013, and appeared today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She remains held without bond pending further proceedings.

Charges contained in criminal complaints are merely allegations that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

13-194

 

Original statement is available online here.

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“Conservative Estimate” of Proceeds from Alleged Visas for Sale Scheme “At Least $10 Million”

McClatchy ’s Michael Doyle has a follow up report on Michael T. Sestak, the Foreign Service officer accused of selling hundreds of visas to residents of Vietnam.  Mr. Sestak made his first appearance in D.C. court on Tuesday according to McClatchy. Excerpt below:

 In a 10-minute session Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson informed Sestak that he faces up to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery. For now, Robinson declined to release Sestak from jail and held him without bond.

Seldom looking up from the table, and dressed in tan pants and a gray T-shirt, Sestak sat silently next to his attorney during the session. In addition to agreeing on a preliminary hearing date of June 14, Sestak’s legal counsel, J. Michael Hannon, filed a bond review motion to be heard Thursday.

Prosecutors said in a May 22 court document that “a conservative estimate” of the proceeds from the alleged conspiracy was “at least $10 million,” although officials added that “approximately $5 million in proceeds remains unaccounted for” and is thought to be in Vietnam.

McClatchy also reports that officials have arrested a 29-year-old Vietnamese citizen, Truc Tranh Huynh in Washington, as one of the alleged co-conspirators.   In addition, Diplomatic Security Service has reportedly filed a warrant to seize money in a brokerage account of another alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, also known as Alice Nguyen claiming it came from visa fraud.

The name of that alleged co-conspirator may actually be Nguyen Thuy Anh Dao, already reported in Vietnamese press as the spouse of co-conspirator #1.

Continue reading, Michael T. Sestak, accused of selling visas, held without bond.

We have previously blogged about this in Sestak Criminal Complaint Details Alleged Visa For Dollars Scheme: Refusal Rates, Emails, and Money Trails.  Tuoi Tre News in Vietnam has covered this case with great zeal (see links below).

(o_O)

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Sestak Criminal Complaint Details Alleged Visa For Dollars Scheme: Refusal Rates, Emails, and Money Trails

— By Domani Spero

McClatchy’s Michael Doyle reported last week about Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak who faces charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in an alleged visa-for-money scheme.  We blogged about it here (see USCG Ho Chi Minh: Former Visa Chief Faces Charges of Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud and Bribery).  This has also been covered widely by the local press in Vietnam with Toui Tre News running daily installments from the criminal complaint.  (Update. On June 1, a Times Union report includes the name of one of the alleged co-conspirator based in Denver, Colorado and some career background of Michael T. Sestak prior to State:  “Sestak left the Albany police force in 1999 to become a U.S. marshal, according to police officers who know him. He joined the Navy in 2001, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander and serving as an intelligence officer during tours that included assignments in the Pacific, Europe and Washington, D.C., according to military records.”).

We reached out to the US Embassy in Vietnam where officials refused to comment.  Public Affairs Officer Christopher Hodges writes, “We have no comment but would instead refer you to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington DC.  You can reach them at 202 252 6933.”   Similarly, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also declined to comment saying, “[W]e do not have any comment on topics related to Mr. Sestak’s case.” However, in an emailed response to an inquiry from Thanh Nien in Vietnam, Mr. Hodges reportedly said that they will seek to prosecute and punish those people involved to the fullest extent of the law. “Protecting the integrity of the U.S. visa is a top priority of the U.S. government. We have zero tolerance for malfeasance,” said Mr. Hodges, quoted in the local press.

The criminal complaint had been unsealed in early May but to-date, there has been no statement from USDOJ or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia.  According to court records, Mr. Sestak was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal in California for removal to the District of Columbia on May 14, 2013.   (Update.  On May 31, Tuoi Tre News says its reporter contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for information on the legal proceedings against Michael Sestak and was told by Bill Miller, who is in charge of press inquiries, that Sestak is still detained in California while waiting to be transferred to Washington D.C. A D.C. court is making arrangements for Sestak’s trial, Miller said).

Based on the criminal complaint, this case appears to have originated from a letter received in July 2012 from a “confidential source” that claimed a “facilitator” was soliciting bribes from applicants in exchange for the issuance a U.S. visas (#8 on the complaint). The source reportedly included names, dates of births, and photographs of seven individuals alleged to have procured visas through this scheme.

The government has over 90 items listed on the affidavit executed by DSS agent Simon Dinits in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant dated May 8, 2013 signed by Judge Alan Kay of the District Court of the District of Columbia.

The affidavit executed by DSS Agent Dinits alleged that “sometime in or around March 2012, while working as a Consular Officer in the Non-Immigrant Visa (“NIV”) Unit of the United States Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (the Consulate”), Vietnam, SESTAK conspired with others to solicit bribes from visa applicants in exchange for which he facilitated the approval of their visas through the Consulate.”

It also asserts that there is “probable cause to believe that Sestak has violated Title 18 USC 371 by conspiring to defraud the United States and to commit offenses against the United States , that is, visa fraud in violation of 18 USC 1546 and bribery in violation of 18 USC 201(b)(I) and (b)(2).”

The complaint noted that between August 2010 and September 2012, Sestak worked in the Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV) Unit of the Consular Section of HCMC. He was the NIV chief and supervised approximately four other consular officers.  The recent OIG report on HCMC which praised the nonimmigrant visa work flow as “efficient” indicates that in addition to four officers, the NIV chief also supervised 16 local Vietnamese employees.

So what did Diplomatic Security looked at? It seemed like they dug up quite a bit:

1.  Refusal Rates:

DSS reviewed the adjudication statistics and found that from May 1, 2012 – September 6, 2012, the HCMC approved 20,362 nonimmigrant visas (NIVs) and refused 11,024 NIVs, an overall refusal rate of 35.1%.  The complaint notes that Sestak, during the same period approved 5,040 NIVs and refused 449 NIVs for a personal refusal rate of 8.17%.  Sestak’s refusal rate went from 30.3% in January to 6.4% in May,11.3% in June, 9.35% in July, 3.82% in August and 6.67% in September which was his last month at post. (#11 in criminal complaint).

2.  Tainted IP address

425 NIV applications had been accessed from two IP address. Sestak conducted initial interview for 404 of the 419 applicants and approved visas for 386 NIVs.  DSS traced one IP address using a Virtual Private Network to  an ISP in California, used to access all 408 NIV applications, and belong to one of the alleged co-conspirators with address in Denver, Colorado.  The complaint notes that two other IP addresses were assigned to ISPs located in Vietnam and the US could not serve legal process to receive subscriber information for the relevant IP address logins.

3. Search Warrants on Gmail and Yahoo Emails

DSS executed search warrants to Gmail and Yahoo email accounts of alleged conspirators, including the emails of a co-conspirator’s father, sister in-law, and others as well as the email of Sestak’s sister in Yulee, Florida. The investigators also looked at Google chats between Sestak and alleged co-conspirator and unearthed 11 shell email accounts used to received biographic info for visa applicants.

4. Money Trails and Wire Transfers

DSS review of financial records between June 20, 2012 and September 11, 2012, indicates 35 money transfers totaling approximately $3,238,991.00 allegedly made to Sestak Thailand Bank Account; majority of the transfers came from Bank of China Beijing (#44).  There was an alleged $600,000 transfer to Sestak Thailand Bank Acct (#46) and an email with transaction details of approximately $1.46 million in transfers allegedly to Sestak Thai Bank account (#47).  Over half a dozen banks used in the transactions are mentioned in the complaint: Wells Fargo; Bank of Hawaii; Sestak’s Thailand Bank Account at Siam Commercial Bank PLC in Bangkok, Thailand; Bank of China Beijing; Amegy Bank of Texas; HSBC; Vietcombank.

5. Real Estate Purchases:

The complaint alleged that in mid-2012, Sestak entered agreements with a Thai real estate company to purchase four properties in Phuket, Thailand, including furnishing, for approximately $1,231,440.00 (#52). The complaint also alleged that in December 2012, Sestak entered agreements with a Thai real estate company to purchase five additional properties in Bangkok, Thailand for an approximate total of $2,103,360.00

6. Friends with Bad Benefits –#33 of the complaint includes this:

“In a chat dated June 1, 2012, co-conspirator 3 stated “last night we went out with this guy who works at the consulate– he’s the one that approves peoples visas …. and he’s this single guy who wants to find someone to be with ….and my brother knows that – so he’s been trying to get this guy out and introduce him to people ….so then later he can do him favors like …. have him approve visas for people.”

7. Statements on SF-86 Questionnaire and Interview

The complaint alleged that Sestak did not reveal his foreign bank account or foreign property purchases on his security background investigation questionnaire.  It also alleged that at the time he submitted the SF-86 questionnaire, he had already opened the Sestak Thailand Bank Account and had entered agreements to purchase four properties in Thailand.

The criminal complaint says that Sestak had a recorded interview with DSS agents in WashDC on October 19, 2012 in connection with their investigation of Vietnamese employees at the consulate general.   In that interview he was reportedly asked “Are you aware of any Americans that came to a lot of money when you were there, kind of unexpectedly, not in line with their regular salary? Sestak replied, “I can’t think of anybody that had anything.”

The allegations amounting to nearly $4 million dollars in a span of six months may be a new record but we should point out that the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.  While the allegations look damning, they are just allegations at this point until proven true in court.

We’re waiting for the DOJ statement and working on a follow-up post.

(ú_ú)

US Embassy Vietnam: Congressman Calls for Firing of Ambassador Shear ‘Cuz Embassy Not An Island of Freedom

On July 9th, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) who represents the 10th District  since 1981 (and is up for reelection) in northern Virginia, the home to many Vietnamese-Americans has called for the firing of the US Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear.  This is not the first time, he has done this, of course.  In May this year, Congressman Wolf had also called for Ambassador Shear’s sacking.

If we fire our diplomats every time a congressman is upset with a career diplomat, we won’t have anyone left to run our embassies.

According to Congressman Wolf’s office, Ambassador David Shear should be removed because he has “repeatedly failed to advocate for human rights and speak out for the voiceless in Vietnam.” Wolf recommended that Shear be replaced by a Vietnamese-American.

In his letter to President Obama, Congressman Wolf was particularly upset by 1) Ambassador Shear’s “failure to invite more dissidents and human rights activists” to the U.S. Embassy for a July 4 celebration after promising that he would; and 2) was disappointed in Ambassador Shear’s handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen presently being held by the Vietnamese government.

Below is an excerpt from Congressman Wolf’s letter to the WH with some photos we’ve dug up online from the US Embassy Vietnam:

I have long believed that U.S. embassies should be islands of freedom – especially in repressive countries like Vietnam. Under Ambassador Shear’s leadership it didn’t appear that the U.S. embassy in Hanoi was embracing this important task. But even more troubling is the fact that Dr. Quan is an American citizen, and yet there appeared to be little urgency to securing his release.

In speaking by phone with Ambassador Shear following the hearing I expressed my concerns and urged him to host a July 4th celebration at the embassy, where the guest list was comprised of religious freedom and democracy activists in Vietnam. I stressed that he should fling open the doors of the embassy and invite Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, Internet bloggers and democracy activists. Such was the custom during the Reagan Administration, especially in the Soviet Union. This practice sent a strong message that America stood with those who stand for basic human rights. In many cases it afforded these individuals protection from future harassment and even imprisonment.

From left to right: Clara Davis-Long, DRL DAS Kathleen Fitzpatrick, AAL Suzan Johnson Cooks, Archbishop Nguyen Van Nhon, U.S. Ambassador David Shear, and Father Hung.
(Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear said that he intended to honor this request. Following my conversation with him I received the enclosed letter from the department indicating that, “Ambassador Shear continues to engage with civil society advocates, promoters of rule-of-law, and democracy activists and will welcome them to the Embassy’s July 4th celebration.” I took Ambassador Shear at his word and in fact shared this correspondence with members of the Vietnamese Diaspora community in the U.S., several of whom were greatly encouraged by this development.

Late last week it was brought to my attention that many of the most prominent democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam were not invited to the event. These reports seemed starkly at odds with the assurances I had personally received from Ambassador Shear. I called him directly this morning to find out if the embassy had invited the dissidents as had been agreed upon. His response was appalling. He said that he had invited a few civil society activists but then said that he needed to maintain a “balance.”

From left to righ: Clara Davis-Long, IRF Desk Officer, DRL DAS Kathleen Fitzpatrick, U.S. Ambassador David Shear, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Vice Chair of the Committee for Religious Affairs
(Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/Flickr)

I wonder how many prominent democracy and human rights activists flooded the 4th of July celebrations at our embassies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or China? And is Congressman Wolf upset with those as well?

Who would have thought that the 4th of July could be such a perilous event? And how many is “more” really, that seems like an important number.

I can understand Ambassador Shear’s point about “balance” but also appreciate the mission discretion over these invitees. Vietnam is run by a repressive, communist regime. The embassy has to deal with the government in place, not the government it wished were in place. That said, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the democracy or human right activists who shows up at this function could be put in peril just by the perception that they are working with the Americans. Does Congressman Wolf really want this kind of showy camera moment outreach during our national day or should we not prefer that the embassy have a more substantial engagement beyond the bright lights?

SON LA, Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Nov. 15, 2011) – Dr. Joshua Peck, center, a forensic anthropologist from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, briefs Ambassador David Shear, right, at a remote recovery site. Five recovery teams are searching in the Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Lang Son, Son La, and Thanh Hoa provinces at aircraft crash and burial sites for six Americans unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. The ultimate goal of JPAC, and of the agencies involved in returning America’s heroes home, is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans lost during the nation’s past conflicts. (DoD photo by Mr. Jason Kaye, U.S. Navy/Released)

Just a side note here — the 2012 IG report tells us that the Government of Vietnam requires advance permission to conduct programs outside U.S. Government premises, controls the print and electronic media, and sometimes limits access to Internet sites. The US Embassy in Vietnam has been creative in using Vietnamese alumni of U.S. exchange programs as they are able to operate outside the restrictions placed on American speakers.  These alumni can more easily engage with wider audiences as credible, informed communicators about their American experience, something the USG speakers are unable to do. That’s how restrictive is the operating environment. Heck, even acquiring land for a much-needed, new embassy compound there have stalled because the GOV is unwilling to grant a lease term that is acceptable to the State Department.

As to his gripe about the practice and custom during the Reagan Administration of sending a strong message that “America stood with those who stand for basic human rights,” it seems like the congressman has a rather selective memory. We may have been doing that in the Soviet Union, but didn’t we embraced an infamous human rights offender in Asia?  While visiting Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, didn’t Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, toasted Marcos’ “adherence to democratic principles?” How quickly we forget our best moments in diplomacy.

As to Congressman Wolf’s complaint about the handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen who is presently being held by the Vietnamese government — for an elected official it shows a limited understanding of what our embassy can and cannot do for Americans in jail.

Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. The United States may view Dr. Quan as a dual national U.S. citizen, not prohibited under our laws, but the country of Vietnam may make no distinction about his dual nationality.

Dr Quan was reportedly arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on a trip on November 17, 2007 for preparing pro-democracy flyers. According to his Wikipedia entry, he brought in a Vietnamese translation of the book From Dictatorship to Democracy about nonviolent resistance. He stood trial in Vietnam on May 13, 2008 on charges of “terrorism” (those commies are creative) and was sentenced to 6 months in prison. He was eventually released on May 17, 2008 and returned to his home in California.

And in April 2012, Dr. Quan was again arrested at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Government officials did not confirm his arrest until five days later. He is reportedly once more, detained on charges of terrorism and for planning to “instigate a demonstration” during the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.

News report in April indicate that the U.S. consulate in Vietnam has confirmed his arrest but that no formal charges have been filed and he has not been granted a lawyer.  Since his arrest, the US consulate was apparently able to visit him only once.

According to a 1994 agreement, U.S. citizens, even dual citizens, have the right to consular access if they were admitted into Vietnam as a U.S. citizen with their U.S. passport. If detained or arrested, travel.state.gov advised that “U.S. citizens should insist upon contact with the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General.”

The problem is the Government of Vietnam is generally slow to notify the embassy about arrests or to grant access to U.S. citizen prisoners, and it requires diplomatic notes to schedule prison visits. It also does not permit visits without a Vietnamese official being present and insists that all verbal exchanges take place in Vietnamese.

Since the immediate release of Dr. Quan after each arrest is really what the congressman is looking for, nothing that the US mission in Vietnam do will ever be good enough.  Perhaps it would be helpful if the State Department offers basic, no perks, no salary fellowship for our congressional representatives to work the visa line and the American Citizens Services units in the hell holes of the world.  Surely that would be an instructive experience.

Domani Spero