Ministry of Tourism and US Embassy officials are investigating allegedly fraudulent visa applications submitted in recent months on government letterhead to the US Embassy, according to officials at the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong met last week to discuss the visa applications, said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A memo titled “Fraudulent Visa Applications Submitted To US Embassy” lists 17 names included on six letters sent to the embassy on what appears to be Ministry of Foreign Affairs stationery. The memo was written by US Embassy officials and handed to Hor Namhong by Wiedemann last week, the ministry official said.
Wiedemann on Thursday confirmed the memo’s existence.
One letter, sent in early August, lists “five members of the delegation of the Ministry of Tourism.” The letter states that the five people would accompany Ministry of Tourism Undersecretary of State Sambo Che to Washington; New York; Seattle, in the US state of Washington; and the state of California on a “tourism advertising mission” at the end of August 2001.
Visas were issued by the US Embassy to the following names: Chourn Puthea, listed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs letter as a Ministry of Tourism finance official; Moa David, listed as a Ministry of Tourism deputy chief of bureau; Holl Davuth, listed as “assistance” to Sambo Che; Kim Sokkea, listed as “assistance” to Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth; and No Kimse, listed as an official of the Ministry of Tourism’s planning department.
The five “officials” are listed on the letter as holders of government service passports.
Sambo Che, a Cambodian-American from the US state of Maryland, said he did not make the trip.
“The letter was a fake,” he said. “I am shocked myself. I am searching for information. I have nothing to do with this at all.”
Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth said the five persons listed are not ministry officials. He denied that top ministry officials were aware or involved in obtaining the fraudulent visas.
“We will continue to investigate this case before making any more comments,” he said.
Wiedemann said the visas were issued in “good faith.”
“The letter from the Cambodian government said they were officials and they had official business. If there was any malfeasance on the Cambodian side, it will be noted,” Wiedemann said. “Clearly we must scrutinize these requests more closely.”
He said there was no reason to believe that embassy employees were involved in wrongdoing.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs letter submitted to the embassy included the handwritten number 1897 in the upper left-hand corner. The numbering system is used to keep track of diplomatic correspondence.
A genuine diplomatic letter was sent to the Vietnamese Embassy in August with the same number—1897—for a delegation of map experts who are scheduled to go to Hanoi later this month for a meeting of the Joint Border Commission, according to the Ministry official.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also investigating five other cases of suspected fraudulent visa applications at the request of the US Embassy, the official said.
One delegation of five municipal police officials was listed as having service passports on a letter brought to the embassy on Sept 27. One of the men applied under another identity in August, according to the US Embassy memo provided by the official.
“None of these individuals knew about their jobs, no police identification cards. All claimed that the police force was changing ID cards and were not available. None knew their office phone numbers. We do not believe them to be genuine,” the memo stated.
Another Ministry of Foreign Affairs letter listed Cheat Bunchhay, an official at the Senate who would be traveling with Senator Kem Sokha.
Kem Sokha said Thursday that Cheat Bunchhay had been removed from his position by the Senate secretary-general. He said he had not traveled to the US recently.
Another letter requests visas for Senator Khieu San and a woman named Dany Penh, listed as his wife. That same woman applied for tourist visas under two separate names in recent months, the memo states. In addition, another woman believed to be the real spouse of Khieu San was issued a visa Aug 30.
And another letter lists three members of the staff of parliamentarian and CPP standing committee member Nhuon Nhel. The memo states that the three listed their home phone as Nhuon Nhel’s cell phone, but no one knows the names of two of the applicants.