Nguon Nhel, a high-ranking CPP official and second vice president of the National Assembly, denied Tuesday that he participated in a US visa scam and showed reporters documents to support his claims.
The documents, which Nguon Nhel said were given to him by Ministry of Foreign Affairs investigators, include visa applications and paperwork for two men whom officials allege falsely claimed they were members of Nguon Nhel’s staff in order to travel to the US. Nguon Nhel has been named as one of several legislators suspected of requesting fraudulent visas from the US Embassy.
Officials say senators and assembly members request US visas for people they claim are spouses or staffers. The visa-buyers travel to the US and disappear, hoping to obtain legal residency later. Government officials have said that at least 16 lawmakers from the three major political parties are being investigated for suspected visa fraud.
Nguon Nhel angrily denied that neither he nor his staff participated in such a scam, saying, “In all my political life, I have never committed such vulgar acts.”
A US Embassy official said Tuesday the embassy was glad the ministry was investigating the alleged scam, adding that the embassy has been forced to scrutinize applications more carefully.
Nguon Nhel asserted Tuesday that two men, Pov Sitha and Chheang Sovanna, paid the directors of the Assembly’s Department of International Relations to alter an official list of his delegation for a planned visit to the US.
He presented a list of eight names, which he said was the real, original visa application for his delegation. He showed another list, identical except that the sixth and eighth names have been replaced with the names Pov Sitha and Chheang Sovanna.
The visas were granted, and on Aug 20 a Funcinpec-appointed protocol official brought Nguon Nhel’s Cabinet chief, Ung Roeung Rith, the paperwork.
Nguon Nhel said Ung Roeung Rith refused to go along with the faked list, calling it “an exploitation of my visit to the US.”
The official then allegedly offered Ung Roeung Rith $5,000 and said everything would be paid for, including the Cabinet chief’s plane ticket. Nguon Nhel said his aid rejected the offer again and cancelled the trip.
Nguon Nhel has claimed he never went to the US but was instead in Vietnam for medical treatment at the time of the planned visit. He showed reporters his passport, which bore a visa stamp from Vietnam but none from the US.
Meanwhile, Nguon Nhel said, Pov Sitha and Chheang Sovanna tried to make the trip anyway, flying from Phnom Penh to Bangkok and planning to continue to Los Angeles. They were turned back in Bangkok because they were not accompanied by the rest of Nguon Nhel’s delegation.
Chan Ven, deputy secretary-general of the Assembly, also said Tuesday that three more cases of visa fraud involving members of parliament have recently been discovered. He refused to name the politicians involved.