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US officer takes bribes from Vietnamese seeking visas

Saturday, May 25, 2013, 11:43 GMT+7
US officer takes bribes from Vietnamese seeking visas
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.

US Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak who once worked at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City has been charged with receiving millions of dollars in bribes from Vietnamese residents seeking visas last year.

Sestak, 42, was arrested last week in South California for the visa-for-money scam and will be escorted to Washington for prosecution, according to US State Department investigators. Sestak worked as the head of the non-immigration visa department of the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City from August  2010 until September 2012, when he left the position to pepare for active-duty service with the Navy. During the period, Sestak, led a visa-for-money ring comprising of five persons and any Vietnamese people who want to obtain visa to the US had to pay up to US$70,000. Sestak’s accomplices told visa seekers that the charge would be between $50,000 and $70,000 per visa but they would sometimes charge less, according to State Department investigator Simon Dinits. The ring encouraged visa brokers to raise the price and keep the amount they charged over the fixed rate as their own commission, Dinits said. Sestak transferred the money gained from the visa-for-money scam out of Vietnam by using money launderers through offshore banks, mainly based in China, to a bank account in Thailand that he opened in May 2012. He later used the money to buy real estate in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand, Dinits added. According to investigators, the consulate received 31,386 non-immigrant visa applications and rejected 35.1 percent of them from May 1 to September 6, 2012. During this period, Sestak handled 5,489 visa applications and rejected only 8.2 percent of them. The rate dropped to 3.8 percent in August, shortly before Sestak left the office. One of the Sestak’s alleged accomplices was the general director of the Vietnam office of a multi-national company located in Vietnam. The four others were friends or relatives of this person, and all are living in Vietnam, Dinits said. Last July the consulate general was reported by an informant that 50 to 70 people from one village in Vietnam had illegally paid for their visas, he said.

Tuoitrenews is contacting with the consulate general for more information.

Tuoitrenews

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