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ArmenianLiberty:U.S. Official Charged With Taking Visa Bribes In Armenia

A consular official at the U.S. embassy in Yerevan has been arrested in
the United States, accused of accepting hefty kickbacks in return for
issuing entry visas to Armenian citizens.

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans said on Friday that Piotr
Zdzislaw Parlej has pleaded guilty to 13 counts of bribery and visa
fraud after being expelled from the mission last month.

Officials in Washington said separately that Parlej, 45, was
detained on Wednesday and was due to appear before a magistrate in the
district of Columbia on Thursday. If convicted of the charges, Parlej
faces up to 15 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000 on each of
the counts.

“It is true that one of our employees has confessed to several
charges of visa fraud,” Evans told reporters in Yerevan. “He has been
indicted yesterday in Washington DC on 13 counts.”

“I would like to emphasize that he was not a full American
diplomat. He was a consular associate … I have sent him back to the
United States where he now faces trial,” he added.

In a joint statement, two senior officials from the U.S.
Departments of Justice and State said the accusations cover the period
“from in or before April 2004, through on or about January 13, 2005.”
“The indictment alleges six specific instances in which Parlej took
cash bribes of up to $10,000 each, in exchange for issuing visas
irrespective of whether the applicants were qualified to receive them,”
the statement said.

“A United States consular official who violates those rules for
personal financial gain undermines the integrity of our visa
application and review process, and erodes public trust in our consular
officials around the world,” the chief Columbia district attorney,
Kenneth Wainstein, was quoted as saying.

In a separate press release, the U.S. embassy in Yerevan revealed
that Armenian law-enforcement authorities were also involved in the
uncovering of the alleged bribe-taking. “We wish to thank the Armenian
authorities for their cooperation in this investigation and in
particular would like to commend the National Security Service of
Armenia for their invaluable assistance,” it said.

It was not clear what specific forms that assistance took and
whether Parlej was caught red-handed. The Washington attorney’s
statement said, without elaborating, that he had “various
co-conspirators.”

The Armenian security service has made no statements in connection
with the affair. Its press service did not answer phone calls on
Friday.

Thousands of Armenians seek entry into the U.S. every year. Many of
them travel there in search of employment, swelling the ranks of one of
the largest Armenian communities abroad. According to the U.S.
consulate in Yerevan, nearly 12,000 Armenian nationals applied for a
visa in 2003. Only 5,000 of them were granted one.

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