Cablegate: Gvn Shuts Down Anti-Fraud Trip, Intimidates Consulate Staff

DE RUEHHM #1065/01 2900709
P 170709Z OCT 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) Hanoi 239, (B) Hanoi 622, (C) Hanoi 997

HO CHI MIN 00001065 001.2 OF 005

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On October 4, Security officials in An Giang
province threatened post's acting Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM)
and accompanying locally employed staff (LES) with arrest and
placed them in harm's way by evicting them from their hotel late
at night. The security officials also attempted to force our
staff to depart the province via dangerous roads after already
having driven a full day. These events capped a trip during
which the Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) team were actively
harassed, surveilled, and otherwise prevented from carrying out
their work by local Vietnamese foreign affairs and public
security officials. Despite post's efforts to comply with GVN
notification requirements prior to provincial travel, local
authorities in five of eight provinces visited blocked consulate
personnel from completing their work. Local officials also
questioned and intimidated visa applicants visited by consular
staff. In response to official protests, Ho Chi Minh City and
Hanoi-based GVN officials acknowledged that our personnel should
not have been removed from the hotel and apologized for that
aspect of the incident. While MFA officials probably did not
intend for security officials to place Consulate personnel at
risk, most of the interference the FPU team encountered appears
to have been orchestrated by MFA officials determined to compel
HCMC-based U.S. personnel to follow notification and approval
requirements which we find unacceptable. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Post's Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) has a backlog of
approximately 1,200 immigrant visa cases, out of which 125 have
already been marked for site verification visits to confirm
information provided by petitioners and beneficiaries in
conjunction with beneficiaries' visa applications.
Approximately thirty of those 125 cases have been pending at
post since before 2006; 24 of those 30 were selected for site
visits during the week of 1-5 October 2007. During site visits,
HCMC personnel attempt to undertake unannounced interviews of
residents in the area to determine the bone fides of case. In
may past cases, these investigations have uncovered fraud that
leads to cases being dismissed.

3. (SBU) The Government of Vietnam requires that post notify the
Ho Chi Minh City Office of External Relations (ERO-HCMC) five
days prior to any official travel outside the HCMC city limits.
Numerous GVN diplomatic notes (reftels) include a requirement
that the GVN approve all travel prior to its being undertaken.
Mission Vietnam has routinely ignored this requirement on the
grounds that such approvals should not be required. In
addition, Mission Vietnam ignores occasional GVN requests to
provide detailed information on all persons to be met on such
trips on the principle that it is impossible to know this
information in advance and giving out such information would
destroy the effectiveness of the investigation process.

4. (SBU) In the current instance, Post sent a dipnote to
ERO-HCMC on 24 September 2007, providing the names of ConGen
staff planning to participate in a routine consular trip
scheduled to begin on 1 October 2007. The note listed the names
of staff participating in the trip as well as the names of eight
provinces to be visited but did not provide a complete listing
of the names and contact information for every IV petition
beneficiary to be contacted during the trip. On 27 September
2007, ConGen faxed a copy of that dipnote to the EROs in each
province to be visited. That same day, ERO-HCMC informed ConGen
that its notification was insufficient because it lacked a
"detailed schedule" of the trip. Post responded via diplomatic
note on 28 September 2007 that ConGen staff would be conducting
routine consular work and that no assistance would be required.
(Note: The exchange mirrored the exchange that took place in
connection with every FPU trip in recent years.) Also on 28
September, post faxed the province-by-province itinerary for the
trip (but not the specific people and addresses to be visited)

--------------------------------------------- -----------
--------------------------------------------- -----------
5. (SBU) FPU team conducted two successful site visits in Tien
Giang province. ConGen staff noticed obvious plainclothes
surveillance upon departure from the second location, but
officials following the team did not attempt to communicate with
ConGen staff or interfere with the site visits. As the trip
proceeded, however, problems from the authorities increased in
frequency and intensity.

HO CHI MIN 00001065 002.2 OF 005

6. (SBU) Next, ConGen staff conducted one site visit in Can Tho
City. While the FPU Team did not perceive any attempt to
monitor or interfere with their activities, they later learned
that plainclothes officials had questioned staff and others in
the hotel where they had stayed and interviewed one person.
ConGen staff noticed between four and six plainclothes
"motorbike drivers" (a common cover for Ministry of Public
Security--MPS--minders) following them for the duration of their
stay in the city.

7. (SBU) The next stop was Kien Giang province, where two
officials from ERO-Kien Giang and two uniformed immigration
officials, accompanied by four uniformed police officers,
stopped FPU team from completing a site visit. The officials
informed the team that they did not have authority to visit visa
applicants at their homes, and suggested that FPM interview the
applicant at the Consulate General. The Kien Giang officials
were courteous and professional; they appeared sincerely
troubled by their lack of authority to find a compromise
solution that would allow ConGen to continue its activities in
the province.

8. (SBU) After completing one site visit in Ben Tre province,
FPU team was stopped outside the applicant's residence by two
plainclothes officials and two uniformed policemen. The four
officials blocked all exits from the house and forced the FPU
team back inside. The two uniformed police officers stood
outside the door while the two plainclothes officials spoke to
the FPU team.

9. (SBU) One plainclothes official questioned FPU Investigator
and wrote down FPM's name and GVN ID number. The official
informed FPU team that Ben Tre province had not granted them
permission to operate in the province. FPM explained the
notification procedures completed by ConGen HCMC before
departure (para 3), but the official nonetheless filled out a
report stating that the team had been caught operating without
authority in Ben Tre province, and told FPM that they would not
be allowed to leave until they signed it. FPM declined to sign
the report, and the official instructed the two uniformed police
officers to block the exit and begin videotaping the exchange.
The plainclothes official then forced the applicant (who had
been instructed to sit silently throughout the confrontation) to
sign the report. The applicant complied.

10. (SBU) In an attempt to diffuse the situation, FPM called
ERO-HCMC Deputy Head of Consular Affairs Doan Tuan Linh. Linh
stated that the FPU team was operating without authority and
that ERO-HCMC would not notify or grant approval for ConGen's
activities until ConGen provided full name and address details
for all persons to be visited. Linh said that he would not
assist FPU team in Ben Tre province because ConGen had refused
to provide information necessary to obtain ERO-HCMC assistance.
Linh stated that local officials had been advised by ERO HCMC
that ConGen team would be visiting their provinces without
proper authority.

11. (SBU) In Vinh Long and Soc Trang provinces, officials
stopped site visits in-progress. Officials in both provinces
remained civil but firm, maintaining that ConGen staff did not
have authority to operate there. ConGen staff noticed
significant plainclothes surveillance in both provinces before
and after the unsuccessful site visits. In Soc Trang,
plainclothes officials were accompanied by uniformed immigration
authorities and police.

12. (SBU) One visa applicant whose interview was interrupted by
the unannounced visit by local authorities was so troubled by
the incident that she delivered a letter of apology to post the
following day. In her letter, she wrote: "I apologize to you
for the unexpected problem; please sympathize with me. This
happened beyond my control and I do not know why he did this.
At that time, I was so confused and surprised that I could not
even determine if the man was a policeman or not...I am
contacting the local authorities in order to ask them to provide
favorable conditions so the consular officer can deal with my

13. (SBU) The FPU Team successfully interviewed three applicants

HO CHI MIN 00001065 003.2 OF 005

in the lobby of their hotel in An Giang province. Shortly
thereafter, FPU Investigator received a call from an ERO-An
Giang representative requesting an immediate meeting in the
hotel lobby. The ERO-An Giang official arrived in the company
of two uniformed immigration officials, five uniformed police,
and several plainclothes "observers." The ERO official
reiterated that ConGen staff were acting without authorization
and that they must cease all work and depart the province. FPM
stated that while the ConGen felt it had complied with all of
ERO-HCMC's requirements, FPU team would nevertheless cease all
activities in the province at once. The ERO official continued
to push the FPU team for an "admission of guilt" and strongly
intimated that they might be arrested and removed from the
province. FPM reiterated that ConGen staff would cease official
activities, but asked to delay departure until the next morning,
as ConGen driver had already worked a full shift and nightfall
was imminent. (Note: Post policy strongly discourages driving
after dark in the provinces for safety reasons.) The ERO
official agreed that the FPU team could stay overnight and
depart the following morning for HCMC.

14. (SBU) Upon conclusion of this discussion, the ERO official
excused himself. The immigration officer attempted to leave the
hotel with FPM's passport. After the FPM confronted him, the
officer returned the passport to the hotel reception and all of
the uniformed officers departed. Fearing that his passport
would be tampered with or "misplaced," FPM requested that the
hotel return his passport and instead provided his GVN-issued
consular identification card. FPM requested that the hotel
reception make copies of all necessary documents and return the
originals. The hotel receptionist called the police for
approval, which was apparently granted, and all original
documents were returned to FPM.

15. (SBU) Following an informal and unofficial restaurant
dinner which was closely watched by plainclothes motorbike
drivers, FPU team returned to the hotel at about 10 PM and were
notified that they were being evicted and were expected to leave
the province before midnight. When FPM asked the hotel
receptionist why they were being asked to leave, the
receptionist produced the hotel's registration book, which was
annotated by the police saying that the team was not authorized
to stay in the province. When FPM questioned the receptionist
further, she immediately made a phone call, resulting in the
nearly immediate entrance into the lobby of three uniformed
immigration police. Between ten and twenty uniformed police, as
well as several plainclothes motorbike drivers, congregated
outside the front hotel entrance. A male member of the hotel
staff stated that the hotel had been requested to ask FPU team
to leave immediately, and that failure to comply would "result
in arrest." Furthermore, he said, the FPU team had until
midnight to leave An Giang province.

16. (SBU) FPU team departed the hotel lobby and loaded luggage
in the ConGen vehicle. FPM consulted RSO and CG, who advised
that it was unsafe to attempt a return to HCMC at night and
suggested finding a well-lit area and remaining in the vehicle
overnight. After driving several blocks, the FPU team realized
that the only suitably lit area in town was the hotel parking
lot they had just left. Returning to the lot, the team remained
in the vehicle as instructed. Initially, approximately five
uniformed police officers were in and around the hotel lobby.
Approximately ten plainclothes motorbike drivers also remained
in view of the vehicle. The hotel's security guard and two
unidentified plainclothes individuals stood on the front steps
of the hotel and monitored the ConGen vehicle.

17. (SBU) After approximately two hours, ERO-HCMC Consular
Deputy Linh called FPM, stating that the situation had been
resolved, that there were no longer any police or plainclothes
monitors threatening the ConGen vehicle, and that the FPU Team
would be allowed to stay at the hotel. When FPM questioned
Linh's assertion that the vehicle was no longer being monitored,
Linh said that FPM was just "nervous." (Note: During this
conversation, three plainclothes officials remained on the hotel
steps and approximately ten plainclothes motorbike drivers stood
on the corners near the ConGen vehicle.) Linh then requested
that FPU Investigator leave the vehicle and pass her cell phone
to the motorbike drivers and plainclothes officials so that he
could ask them to leave. After consulting with RSO, and in
light of the repeated threat of arrest both in the meeting with
ERO earlier in the day and in the exchange with the hotel that
evening, FPM decided that it would not be prudent to send an LES
staff member to negotiate with these individuals.

18. (SBU) Approximately fifteen minutes later, a second ERO-HCMC
official called, asking for details about FPU team's interaction
with the hotel and the uniformed and plainclothes officials.
This official said that he was disappointed that provincial

HO CHI MIN 00001065 004.2 OF 005

authorities had provided him false information about their
intentions to let FPU team resume normal freedom of movement.
This official again asked FPM to send FPU Investigator to talk
to the plainclothes officials and to attempt to re-register at
the hotel reception. On the advice of the Consul General, and
on the basis of ERO-HCMC's assurances that the officials would
not attempt to arrest ConGen personnel, FPM approached the hotel
receptionist. The receptionist stated that FPU team was still
not welcome, and that the team had been strictly prohibited from
staying in the province. During this conversation, a
plainclothes official approached the desk and told the
receptionist that "the conversation was over." FPM returned to
the vehicle, but tried again to re-register at the hotel at
approximately 2:20 AM. The hotel receptionist continued to
assert that he was under strict instructions not to allow FPU
Team to stay at the hotel under any circumstances. This
conversation was again monitored by a plainclothes official, but
the official did not intervene.

19. (SBU) FPU team slept in the ConGen vehicle until
approximately 4:15 AM and then departed for HCMC. There was no
apparent attempt to follow the vehicle out of the province;
however, two different motorbike drivers were still across from
the hotel when the vehicle left the parking area.

20. (SBU) FPU team returned to HCMC on the morning of 4 October.
The Consul General, Deputy Principal Officer and Consular
Section Chief met with ERO-HCMC Deputy Director Quoc and
Consular Deputy Linh the same day. The Consul General strongly
protested the inappropriate and threatening actions by ERO and
MPS that had endangered ConGen staff. He particularly condemned
official attempts to force the employees to leave An Giang
province late in the evening, which would have meant travel over
unsafe provincial roads on the way back to HCMC. Separately,
Embassy Hanoi protested to MFA and MPS, including via official
letter to the MFA.

21. (SBU) During the meeting with CG, ERO Deputy Director Quoc
professed to having been surprised by the incident in An Giang
province. He said there is never any excuse for harassment of
any foreigner, let alone a diplomat, who is attempting to spend
the night in a hotel. That said, Quoc alleged that it was
impossible to control local officials when the consulate had not
provided complete information -- including the name, address and
contact information for every person to be contacted -- to the
provinces in question regarding planned trips and consular
activities. Both Quoc and Linh pointedly mentioned several
times that the consulate continues to operate "outside its
consular district" -- i.e., outside Ho Chi Minh City proper.
According to Quoc, he himself must notify the MFA in Hanoi of
his own exact plans whenever he goes to Hanoi; similarly,
consulate staff must provide exact details of its own meetings
whenever it travels outside the province. CG countered that the
issue of the parameters of the consular district are irrelevant
to the issue of interference with and endangerment of our
personnel. MFA and MPS officials in Hanoi took a similar line,
apologizing for the incident in An Giang, but underscoring the
GVN view on the need for approvals and detailed information in
advance of work "out of district."

22. (SBU) While ERO officials appeared genuinely displeased with
the actions of regional security officials (evicting the FPU
team from their hotel and ordering their immediate departure),
the response of the ERO-HCMC office also makes clear that
provincial officials preventing the FPU team from carrying out
their work were acting under general guidance from the ERO-HCMC

23. (SBU) Since the consulate opened, we have operated under the
tension of having consular and humanitarian resettlement trips
periodically disrupted or prevented by confrontations with
officials in the field. At the same time, we have also been
able to accomplish literally hundreds of investigations without
incident, allowing us to control fraud and achieve our consular
mission. The concerns in this case, however, transcend those
"doing business" issues. We acknowledge that the GVN does
arguably have some right under international law to limit or
restrict our interactions with Vietnamese citizens, though very
few countries in today's world actually exercise such rights
(reftels). The GVN does not, however, have the right to
interfere with or endanger our personnel.


HO CHI MIN 00001065 005.2 OF 005

24. (SBU) HCMC and Hanoi are currently coordinating next steps
for pushing forward with necessary anti-fraud trips. We will
report the results as they develop.

25. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

© Scoop Media

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