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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US adoption agent guilty of visa fraud

US adoption agent guilty of visa fraud

One US adoption agent has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and conspiracy

to launder money in relation to adoptions arranged in Cambodia and another is facing

similar charges.

Lynn Devin, who runs Seattle International Adoptions, entered a plea agreement with

prosecutors on December 10. Her sister, high profile adoption facilitator Lauryn

Galindo, has been indicted by a grand jury. A warrant for her arrest was issued on

November 7.

Devin can be required to relinquish any properties derived from committing the offense

plus a sum of more than $100,000. She is due to be sentenced on March 12 next year.

Galindo has been arranging adoptions in Cambodia for more than a decade. She is close

to a range of senior Cambodian government figures and is best known internationally

for facilitating an adoption by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

Devin's charges related to ten cases during a period beginning in January 1997 and

ending when the US suspended adoptions from Cambodia in December 2001.

Galindo has been indicted for half-a-dozen overlapping cases.

According to the district court documents Galindo and Devin faked documents to falsely

pass off the adopted children as orphans and created fictitious identities for the

children.

This was done, the documents state, "in order to expedite the adoption process

for Cambodian children to United States families and to enhance their profits".

The documents outline the pair's actions in the cases aimed at securing "immediate

relative visas" for the adopted children.

The charges include several cases where the identities of children were switched

after a child became unavailable because of illness or death. In these circumstances,

the prospective parent would be told to retain documentation of the sick or dead

child and use it to adopt a different child.

They also include a case which arguably constitutes "baby-buying".

In one of the cases listed, an "unindicted co-conspirator" encouraged a

birth mother to relinquish her four-year-old daughter for adoption around January

1998.

Lynn Devin then informed an adoptive parent in the US that the child was an orphan.

This was despite the fact that Lauryn Galindo had acknowledged that the girl's mother

was alive in an annotation to her medical record.

The adoptive parents were then required to make a series of payments to the agency

totaling $7,000.

In May of that year the parents were taken to an orphanage in Kampong Speu where

the child was delivered to the new parents by the biological mother. Galindo then

allegedly told the adoptive parents to give the woman $100, the indictment says.

The parents were then directed to "donate" $3,500 to the orphanage. When

they queried the orphan status of the child Devin told them it "would be best"

to go ahead with the adoption. Galindo is then alleged to have completed visa paperwork

in which she claimed the child was an orphan and its parents unknown.

Another case, a parent was given a five-month-old boy at the Sihanoukville orphanage

in December 1997. When the parent decided not to go ahead with the adoption Galindo

convinced the parent to complete the paperwork to adopt the child.

Galindo then took the child to Honolulu International Airport where she delivered

him to a different adoptive parent who had paid close to $10,000 in fees.

The money laundering charges relate to the transfer of money outside of the US with

intent to carry out unlawful activity. Seattle International Adoptions charged around

$10,500 for its services.

Galindo referred questions to a public relations firm which had not answered questions

by press time.

But she emailed former clients to protest her innocence and claim that she had not

been served with an indictment.

"I am dismayed that Lynn would plead 'guilty' when there was no crime committed,"

she wrote before she appealed for emails of support from former clients.

Most of the cases involve the Women's and Vocational Orphans Association (WOVA),

an orphanage that has been linked to child trafficking allegations in the past.

But WOVA Director Chhim Naly declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the case.

"I am sick, I have heart disease, let me stay in the quiet. I have stopped working

for one year. Few of my children remain and they are hungry. Sorry, sorry,"

was all she would say.

Cambodian authorities were unable to say if she would face investigation here.

However human rights NGO Licadho said Cambodian authorities should act.

"Licadho urges the Cambodian authorities to investigate [Kampong Speu and WOVA]

orphanages, and others which have been the subject of allegations in recent years,

to determine whether crimes have been committed under Cambodian law," said Naly

Pilorge, director of the NGO.

"We are very happy with the prosecutions in the US but we also feel that it's

time for the Cambodian authorities to prosecute Cambodians engaged in the trafficking

of children for the purpose of adoptions."

While charges have been laid in several cases none have gone to trial.

Three staff at an orphanage run by a former driver for Galindo were charged with

human trafficking in December 2001 after two women reclaimed babies that were apparently

bound for the US.

However the case was dropped so quietly that not even the lawyer for the birth mothers

knew about it until some five months later.

The adoption industry has been alleged to fuel bribery, child trafficking and other

unscrupulous practices in Cambodia for more than a decade.

In May 1999 Foreign Minister Hor Namhong asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to investigate

bribery allegations against Galindo and described her activities as "like selling

goods".

The letter requested an investigation of claims that Galindo paid $5,500 in bribes

to the Ministries of Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs and the Council of Ministers.

However Senate President Chea Sim enlisted the help of the co-interior ministers

Sar Kheng and You Hokry to request that adoptions by Galindo be approved.

Galindo has described Cambodian People's Party powerbroker Sim as "like a father

to me" and says that she is friends with Sar Kheng and the prime minister's

wife Bun Rany.

In 2002 she was awarded a special medal for national reconstruction by the Cambodian

government.

Galindo, a former professional hula dancer, keeps a luxury home in Hawaii and a riverfront

apartment in Phnom Penh. Last year she told the Cambodia Daily that she had donated

$600,000 to children's causes.

She has been one of the biggest players in Cambodian adoptions for more than a decade.

When the US government suspended adoptions from Cambodia, Galindo had 114 families

in the adoption pipeline.

Cambodia became heavily targeted by adoption agencies for its cheap and fast adoption

process but it remained a minor source of orphans with around 90 per-month going

to the US in mid-2001.

The number of Americans adopting overseas increased from 6,472 in 1992 to 18,541

in 2000. Programs to feed that demand have sprung up everywhere from Guatemala to

Russia, China and Romania and most programs have attracted allegations of baby-buying

or other forms of corruption.

However the prosecution of Lynn Devin is the first of its kind. Pilorge welcomed

the actions of US authorities and said that such prosecutions in countries that receive

orphans were vital to deter abuse of the adoption system.

"This sends an important message to adoption facilitators and agencies that

they will be held responsible for any illegal acts they commit," she said.

New legislation on foreign adoptions was written by UNICEF three years ago but is

yet to become law. The law would relegate international adoptions to a last resort

strategy.

A situation report issued by the Dutch embassy in Bangkok last May concluded that

various government officials had stymied efforts to introduce alternatives to international

adoptions.

Mao Sovadei, director of the child welfare department at MoSALVY, the social affairs

ministry, could give no indication of when the legislation would pass. Nor did he

acknowledge any responsibility for his ministry in allowing trafficked infants to

be passed off as orphans.

"I don't know yet who should be held accountable for this issue," he said.

A spokesperson for the US embassy said that only around 20 adoptions for those families

that filed paperwork prior to the December 2001 cut-off date were left to be processed.

After that "no further adoptions will be processed for American families until

such time as the US Government is convinced that a transparent system is put into

place that...to ensure that only children who are genuine orphans are being put up

for adoption and that practices such as baby stealing and selling are prevented,"

the spokesperson said.

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