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Investigative leads in Sestak’s visa-for-money scam

Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 17:00 GMT+7
Investigative leads in Sestak’s visa-for-money scam
People queue to apply for a visa at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City on Dong Khoi Street in this January 24, 2013 file photo.

From a confidential letter sent to the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City last year, US State Department investigators have obtained investigative leads in their investigation of Sestak’s visa-for-money scam in Vietnam.>> Visa bribery case: how did ex-US officer make money?>> US officer takes bribes from Vietnamese seeking visas In July 2012, the Consulate received a letter from a confidential source that claimed that a “facilitator” was soliciting bribes from applicants in exchange for the issuance of U.S. visas, according to Simon Dinits, a Special Agent with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) of the US Department of State. In the letter, the source claimed that between May 20, 2012, and early July 2012, between 50 and 70 people from a specific village in Vietnam had obtained U.S. visas by way of a fraudulent visa scheme.

The source claimed that one could pay $55,000 in order to be guaranteed a tourist visa to the United States. The letter included the names, dates of birth, and photographs of seven of the individuals alleged to have procured visas through this fraudulent scheme. All NIV applications are submitted electronically via the Department of State's Consular Electronic Application Center (“CEAC”). The Internet Protocol (“IP”) address from which an applicant accesses the CEAC is captured and retained both at the time an application is first created, and at the time the application is submitted. Therefore, for every application submitted through the CEAC, there are two associated IP addresses. DSS investigation resulted in the identification of five of the seven applicants named in the letter. All five applicants had visas approved by Sestak between May 20 and May 31, 2012. A review of these applications showed that they were connected to two IP addresses. Four of the five applications had been accessed from what appeared to be a dynamic IP address beginning with the digits 216131.79, and which was later ascertained to be assigned to a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) hosted by a U.S. Internet Service Provider (“ISP”), (“IP Address A”); or from what appeared to be a static IP address of 118.69.37.10 (“IP Address B”). One application had not been accessed by either IP address A or B; however, this application, dated May 21, 2012, was for an applicant whose sister’s NIV application had been accessed by IP address A, and whose visa was issued by Sestak two days later, on May 23, 2012. DSS review of adjudication statistics for the Consulate revealed that between May 1, 2012, and September 6, 2012, the Consulate as a whole approved 20,362 NIVs, and refused 11,024 NIV applications - an overall refusal rate of 35.1%. During the same time period, Sestak approved 5,040 NIVs and refused 449 NIV applications - 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 the Consulate.Three tainted IP addresses DSS review of Consulate records revealed that many of the applications adjudicated by Sestak were accessed from one of three IP addresses (tainted IP addresses). Further investigation showed that the three IP addresses from which the applications were accessed were connected to co-conspirator 1, co-conspirator 3, and co-conspirator 2 and family. DSS review of Consulate records revealed that approximately 425 NIV applications (for 419 unique applicants) had been accessed from IP Address A or IP Address B, between March 8, 2012, and September 6, 2012. Sestak conducted the initial interview for 404 of the 419 applicants and approved visas for 386 applicants. Sestak tried to issue visas to an additional 11 of the 404 applicants that he initially interviewed, but the system kicked back the applications due to certain data mismatches; all 11 applicants were ultimately re-adjudicated and approved by other officers without further interviewing.

Sestak gave 4 of the 404 applicants that he initially interviewed “soft refusals,” because they were missing documentation or had not paid certain fees required for their specific visa classes; all 4 of these applications were subsequently issued visas by other consular officers. Of the 15 applicants initially interviewed by other officers, 13 were refused visas. Sestak overturned the refusal of one of these 13. Six others submitted new applications between 1 and 6 days after their refusal and were re-interviewed and issued visas by Sestak.(To be continued – Next issue: Relations behind IP addresses)

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