Cablegate: Media Play -- Embassy Colombo Employees Indicted

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. On 5/2 Colombo's Administrative Officer and her husband,
who had been employed by the mission as a Consular
Associate, were indicted on visa fraud and alien smuggling
charges. PD issued a press release regarding the
indictments, noting that they were the result of an 11-
month investigation. The release also announced that the
Consulate in Colombo would close temporarily "for a
thorough review of operations," and concluded by noting
that "the illegal issuance of U.S. visas is a serious crime
that threatens American borders and the national security
of the United States. The Department of State maintains
extensive programs to combat vigorously visa fraud and
investigates all allegations of such criminal activity."
For full text of the press release see para. 4.

2. Sri Lanka's dailies and weekenders gave the story
prominent coverage. On 5/3 the front pages included
headlines such as "Visa scandal rocks U.S. Embassy" (DAILY
MIRROR, independent English daily), "Visa fraud and alien
human trafficking -- two former officers of U.S. Embassy
indicted" (DINAMINA, government-owned Sinhala daily), and
"Consular section of U.S. Embassy in Colombo closed"
(THINAKARAN, government-owned Tamil daily). The 5/4
weekenders continued with headlines like "Two American
Officials indicted for issuance of illegal visas" (SUNDAY
LAKBIMA, independent Sinhala weekender), "Lanka transit
point for big U.S. visa scam" (SUNDAY TIMES, independent
English weekender), and "Visa fraud at U.S. Embassy"
(VIRAKESARI, independent Tamil weekender). 5/3 coverage
was based on post's press release; by 5/4 wire service and
local reports had come into play.

3. Despite two days of heavy, front-page coverage, only one
Sri Lankan daily chose to editorialize on the issue. On
5/4, under the headline "The visa scandal," the SUNDAY
ISLAND (independent English weekender) lamented the price
that "genuine travelers have to pay ... for the actions of
cheats and frauds" that oblige consular offices to "enforce
preventive measures" that "mean hardship to honest people."
It called on consular officers to apply "rules and
regulations ... justly and humanely," saying that "one way
of attracting graft is to make getting a visa ... very
difficult...." The ISLAND closed its comment by calling
the incident "an opportunity to blow the whistle. The
State Department `maintains extensive programs to combat
vigorously visa frauds and investigates all allegations of
such criminal activity,' the embassy said. Those who have
benefited from such visas are not likely to squeal. The
deprived might, though, now that complaints have been
implicitly invited."

4. Text of Embassy Colombo's 5/2 press release follows:

"Former U.S. embassy employees indicted on visa fraud

"Two former employees of the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri
Lanka, A. C. Robert Johnson and Long N. Lee, were indicted
on Friday, May 2, in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento,
California, on charges relating to visa fraud and alien
smuggling. Seven other individuals also were indicted in
connection with this case. No other American staff at the
Embassy are suspected of involvement.

"These indictments are the result of an 11-month
investigation conducted by the Diplomatic Security Service,
the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's
Office in Sacramento, California, the Department of
Justice, and Sri Lankan authorities. Law enforcement
officials received valuable assistance from the Bureau of
Consular Affairs in this investigation.

"In order to ensure the integrity of the U.S. visa and the
visa issuance process, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, E.
Ashley Wills, has decided to close the Consulate
temporarily to all but emergency services for a thorough
review of operations. The Consulate is expected to reopen
within a few days.

"The illegal issuance of U.S. visas is a serious crime that
threatens American borders and the national security of the
United States. The Department of State maintains
extensive programs to combat vigorously visa fraud and
investigates all allegations of such criminal activity.

"As this case is now before the courts, we are not able to
provide further information at this time."


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