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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Americans alarmed by visa scam artists

Americans alarmed by visa scam artists

A number of "organized groups" are preying on unsuspecting Cambodians applying

for visas at the American Embassy and squeezing them for thousands of dollars via

a variety of scams, according to US government officials here in Phnom Penh.

"We've uncovered a number of corrupt, organized groups running fraudulent operations

against their own people," US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann told the Post on Feb

13.

"The fraud is linked to these criminals taking advantage of Cambodians wishing

to go to the US who cheat them of large sums of money asserting that money reaches

people in the embassy," he added.

"Some of these criminals charged unsuspecting victims thousands of dollars for

services they claim would result in the issuance of a visa," the Ambassador

said while noting that "if anyone asks [a visa] applicant for any money than

the Cambodian citizen should conclude that that person is a criminal."

The US Ambassador expressed severe indignation at what he described as "parasites

hanging outside the embassy who prey on people waiting to apply for visas."

An embassy official said that no specific individuals had been identified but that

an investigation was continuing.

The Post became aware of the possibility of visa-related fraud inside the embassy

in Oct, 2000 when it received an anonymous email alleging:

"There are some Cambodian worker, for the INS, [who] had forced many Cambodian...

[to pay] up to $5,000 to them in order to come to the U.S."

The email also alleged that Cambodians had received death threats to prevent them

from complaining about the bribes to proper US authorities.

When the embassy was contacted at the time, an official said he was aware of the

allegations and that an investigation was on-going.

When asked on Feb 13 if any Cambodians working for the embassy had been implicated

in visa scams Wiedemann explained that all employees were required to sign a statement

acknowledging that they would observe ethical work-place practices.

"If found [to be in violation of this agreement] they will be immediately dismissed,"

said Wiedemann.

"Such has happened at the US Embassy and appropriate action was taken."

He declined further comment on who was sacked and whether these individuals were

directly involved in visa fraud.

Another embassy official, who requested anonymity, when asked the same question responded:

"None that work for this embassy at this time," indicating that heads may

have rolled in recent months.

The embassy source said that their investigations had determined that individuals

were approaching Cambodians applying for visas and pressuring them to pay fees with

promises of guaranteed results, that "scribe" services were being offered

to help fill out forms with crooks saying that embassy staff would recognize their

handwriting and thus ensure visa approval, and that forms and "unnecessary documents"

themselves were also being sold.

The Americans say they receive around 200 Immigrant Visa and 1,000 Non-Immigrant

Visa applications per month and the fees are $260 and $45 respectively which are

uniform throughout the world.

Wiedemann said he was going public with the information because innocent Cambodians

were being victimized and the illegal activities were casting disrepute on the US

government.

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