US diplomat pleads guilty in Vietnam visa bribery case

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Michael T. Sestak, former US diplomat in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City

A former American diplomatic official in Vietnam Wednesday admitted in a US court to having taken more than US$3 million in bribes for issuing nearly 500 visitor visas.

ABC News quoted Michael T. Sestak, 42, as saying at a trial in Washington D.C. that he was part of a conspiracy -- along with five others from the US and Vietnam to commit bribery and visa fraud.

Sestak was stationed in Ho Chi Minh City between August 2010 and September 2012 and in charge of reviewing and approving visa applications, and his criminal scheme was discovered by investigators when his posting was about to end.

He was arrested last May.

Sestak said they offered "deals" online for $15,000 to $70,000 for a non-immigrant visa to the US, issuing even to some applicants who had previously been rejected, according to the US Department of Justice.

He received payment into an account at a Chinese bank and transferred it to a secret account in Thailand, where he bought nine properties.

Sestak agreed to return the money since he had sold the properties.

Investigations found that the scheme generated at least $9.78 million, suggesting Sestak was recruited himself by his co-conspirators.

He faces up to 24 years in prison, which will be decided at another trial.

Other members have been charged with bribery and money laundering.

Three of them -- Vietnamese-American millionaire Vo Tang Binh, 39, his sister Hong Vo, 27, and his cousin  Truc TranhHuynh, 29 -- have been arrested, while authorities are looking for Binh's wife Nguyen Thuy Anh Dao.

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