Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: US visa regulation flaws allow for embassy corruption in Vietnam

In what the prosecutors had dubbed “one of the largest bribery schemes involving a foreign service officer in the history of the United States”, last week a court in Washington DC sentenced 44-year-old Michael T Sestak to 64 months in prison. Sestak’s lawyer, Gray Broughton predicts he’ll be out of prison in a little over two years, telling Al Jazeera, “Michael Sestak is a good man who made a huge mistake.” The career diplomat, decorated police officer, former US Marshall and a lieutenant commander in the US Naval Reserve, spent most of 2012 rubber-stamping visa applications at the US consulate in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh city, while a Vietnamese-American family funnelled him millions of dollars in bribes. Prosecutors claimed that before being exposed by an informant , Sestak’s co-conspirators collected as much as $73,000 per visa, and that much of this money remains hidden overseas. Together, the conspirators sold an estimated one percent of all non-immigrant visas issued at the consulate in 2012, according to Bureau of Consular Affairs figures and Sestak’s sentencing memorandum, and generated millions of dollars in profits. In public court filings, prosecutors estimated that the scheme generated $9.7m in seven months. Sestak’s attorney estimated it may have generated over $15m, much of which remains hidden overseas. Sestak’s case raises questions about the extent to which the US state department monitors its own operations. Only 35 state department employees have been convicted of consular malfeasance since the department brought its first criminal case against a foreign service officer in 1998.



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