Clearly the Venezuelans didn’t do stringent background checks on those to whom they issued these fraudulent passports, and it would have been easy for jihadis to gain access to the fake passports. Lopez speaks about this operation taking place in the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq. If it was happening there, there is no reason why it couldn’t also have been happening elsewhere, even at home. And Venezuela is just three miles across the water from Trinidad, which has the highest rate of Islamic State recruitment in the Western hemisphere.
“Venezuela may have given passports to people with ties to terrorism,” by Scott Zamost, Drew Griffin, Kay Guerrero and Rafael Romo, CNN, February 9, 2017:
The stunning postcard-perfect vista surrounding Misael Lopez in this town about one hour from Madrid belies his constant anxiety, even fear.
That’s because the former legal adviser to the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq is revealing secrets he says his government doesn’t want disclosed.
“I’m concerned about my safety and my family’s safety everywhere I go,” Lopez said as he walked the cobble-stoned streets of Toledo.
Lopez, 41, says he reported what he says was a scheme to sell passports and visas for thousands of dollars out of the embassy and repeatedly turned down offers to get a cut of the money. But it was the response from his government — which has denied his allegations — that surprised him the most.
CNN and CNN en Español teamed up in a year-long joint investigation that uncovered serious irregularities in the issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas, including allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism. The investigation involved reviewing thousands of documents, and conducting interviews in the U.S., Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.
One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The accusation that the country was issuing passports to people who are not Venezuelan first surfaced in the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the country’s president, interviews and records show.
A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.
Over the course of the CNN investigation, Lopez provided documents that show he repeatedly told Venezuelan officials about what he discovered. But he said instead of investigating his allegations, the government targeted him for disclosing confidential information. U.S. officials were also made aware of his findings.
“You cannot be a cop, and a thief at the same time,” Lopez said. “I decide to be a cop and do the right thing.”
Doing the right thing has cost him.
It didn’t start out that way.
Lopez, a lawyer who worked as a police officer in Venezuela, said he thought becoming a diplomat was a great career opportunity, which would also allow him to serve his country. With that in mind, he moved to Baghdad to start his new life at the Venezuelan Embassy.
But, he recalled, he got an unwelcome surprise on his first day in July 2013.
His new boss, Venezuelan Ambassador Jonathan Velasco, gave him a special envelope, he said.
“He gave me an envelope full of visas and passports,” Lopez recalled. “He told me, ‘Get this, this is one million U.S. dollars.’ I thought it was like a joke. Then he told me here people pay a lot of money to get a visa or a passport to leave this country.”
About one month later, Lopez said he realized it was no joke.
An Iraqi employee of the embassy, who was hired to be an interpreter, told him she had made thousands of dollars selling Venezuelan passports and visas, he said. And he could make a lot of money, too.
But Lopez said he told her it was wrong and he refused.
The employee pressed the issue, telling him there were thousands of dollars to be made, he said, even discussing an offer to sell visas to 13 Syrians for $10,000 each.
And, Lopez, said, she told him he could get a cut of the money, too.
Again, he said he refused.
“I suspect it might be terrorists; that’s why I reject, of course, immediately,” Lopez said.
And he said it just got worse.
Lists of names
Lopez said he was stunned when he found a document inside the embassy. It was a list of 21 Arabic names with corresponding Venezuelan passport numbers and Venezuelan identification numbers. A Venezuelan immigration official told CNN that a cross-check of the passport numbers indicated that the passports are valid and match the names on the list Lopez found — meaning the people on the list could be able to travel using those passports.
But incredibly, a publicly available database in Venezuela examined by CNN shows 20 of the 21 identification numbers are registered to people with Hispanic names — not the Arabic names listed on the passports….
U.S. lawmakers heard reports about Venezuelan passport fraud during congressional hearings as far back as 2006. In fact, a congressional report warned, “Venezuela is providing support, including identity documents that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups.”
And a state department report at the time also concluded that “Venezuelan travel and identification documents are extremely easy to obtain by persons not entitled to them.”…