U.S. consular officer accused of taking bribes from Vietnam visa seekers

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A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam said they are working with law enforcement partners to investigate a consulate officer who has allegedly received bribes from Vietnamese seeking visas.
In an emailed reply to Thanh Nien on Saturday, Christopher Hodges said 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," Hodges said.
A report on the website of the U.S. News & Observer Thursday said Michael T. Sestak, who was in charge of handling non-immigrant visas at the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City until last September, is facing charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and accepting bribes.
He was arrested in South California about one week ago, and will be sent back to Washington, where a criminal complaint was filed against him on May 6, the report said.
It quoted State Department investigator Simon Dinits as saying in an affidavit that Sestak and five unnamed co-conspirators allegedly charged Vietnamese visa seekers between US$50,000 and 70,000 per visa.
Under the scheme, one co-conspirator reached out to people in Vietnam and in the U.S., and would advertise that visas could be guaranteed, even for those who were unlikely candidates.
The other co-conspirators would help prepare the applications, while Sestak would review them, he said.
Dinits said one of Sestak's alleged co-conspirators was the general director of the Vietnam office of a multinational company, and four others were his friends or relatives. All the co-consiprators live in Vietnam, Dinits said.
Sestake is believed to have received several million dollars in bribes from Vietnamese residents seeking visas.
He would move the ill-gotten funds out of Vietnam by "using money launderers through offshore banks, primarily based in China, to a bank account in Thailand that he opened in May 2012," Dinits said. "He then used the money to purchase real estate in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand."
According to Dinits, Sestak started working for the U.S. consulate in HCMC in August 2010, and had a remarkably lenient record for granting visas.
The consulate received 31,386 non-immigrant visa applications between May 1 and September 6, 2012, and 35.1 percent of them were rejected.
Meanwhile, during the same period, Sestak rejected only 8.2 percent of 5,489 applications he handled.
The rate of visa rejection by Sestak was reported to have fallen to 3.8 percent in August, shortly before he was to leave the office in preparation for active-duty service with the Navy.
U.S. investigators started investigating the case after an informant advised consular officials last July that 50-70 people from a Vietnamese village had made illegal payments to get visas, Dinits said.

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