One pleads guilty in US visa scam
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A Virginia man has pleaded guilty to participating in a scam to sell US visas out of the US Embassy in Sri Lanka, the US Justice Department said Friday.
Rajwant Virk, of Herndon, Virginia, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Sacramento, California to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States, bribe State Department officials and commit visa fraud in exchange for cooperating in an investigation against the eight other accused co-conspirators.
Two US nationals employed at the US embassy in Sri Lanka were arrested last month. The government indicted Acey Johnson, 32, and his wife, Long Lee, 51, on charges of visa fraud and human smuggling.
"According to a criminal complaint unsealed April 29, 2003, the defendants were allegedly involved in a scheme in which Johnson and Lee took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes between 2000 and 2003 in exchange for the issuance of visas to various foreign nationals, primarily from Vietnam and India," the Justice Department said in a statement.
Travel agents in Sri Lanka said it was common knowledge that visas could be "bought" from several embassies, including the US mission, in Colombo, for 3,000 to 5,000 dollars. Many believed it was cheaper to buy a genuine visa than risk travelling illegally in fishing boats to Europe by paying up to 2,500 dollars.
Virk, 46, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
All nine defendants, are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and to bribe public officials and to commit visa fraud.
Seven other defendants also appeared before Judge Garland Burrell. Johnson, until recently a Consular Associate employed in the consular section of the US Embassy in Sri Lanka; and Lee, a State Department Foreign Service Officer and career State Department employee are also in federal custody.
Defendants Narinderjit Singh Bhullar, 40, of Sacramento; Phuong-Hien Lam Trinh, 35, of Torrance, California; and Rachhpal Singh, 32, of Hayward, California were previously released on bail. A ninth defendant is a fugitive.
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