That is as a result of the previous authorized adviser to the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq is revealing secrets and techniques he says his authorities would not need disclosed.
“I am involved about my security and my household’s security in every single place I am going,” Lopez mentioned as he walked the cobble-stoned streets of Toledo.
Lopez, 41, says he reported what he says was a scheme to promote passports and visas for hundreds of out of the embassy and repeatedly turned down affords to get a lower of the cash. However it was the response from his authorities — which has denied his allegations — that stunned him probably the most.
CNN and CNN en Español teamed up in a year-long joint investigation that uncovered severe irregularities within the issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas, together with allegations that passports got to folks with ties to terrorism. The investigation concerned reviewing hundreds of paperwork, and conducting interviews within the U.S., Spain, Venezuela and the UK.
One confidential intelligence doc obtained by CNN hyperlinks Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that have been issued to people from the Center East, together with folks related to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The accusation that the nation was issuing passports to people who find themselves not Venezuelan first surfaced within the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the nation’s president, interviews and data present.
A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, together with 26 nations within the European Union, in response to a rating by Henley and Companions. A visa is required to enter the USA.
Over the course of the CNN investigation, Lopez supplied paperwork that present he repeatedly informed Venezuelan officers about what he found. However he mentioned as an alternative of investigating his allegations, the federal government focused him for disclosing confidential info. U.S. officers have been additionally made conscious of his findings.
“You can’t be a cop, and a thief on the identical time,” Lopez mentioned. “I determine to be a cop and do the suitable factor.”
Doing the suitable factor has price him.
It did not begin out that approach.
Lopez, a lawyer who labored as a police officer in Venezuela, mentioned he thought turning into a diplomat was an amazing profession alternative, which might additionally enable him to serve his nation. With that in thoughts, he moved to Baghdad to begin his new life on the Venezuelan Embassy.
However, he recalled, he received an unwelcome shock on his first day in July 2013.
His new boss, Venezuelan Ambassador Jonathan Velasco, gave him a particular envelope, he mentioned.
“He gave me an envelope stuffed with visas and passports,” Lopez recalled. “He informed me, ‘Get this, that is a million U.S. .’ I assumed it was like a joke. Then he informed me right here folks pay some huge cash to get a visa or a passport to go away this nation.”
About one month later, Lopez mentioned he realized it was no joke.
An Iraqi worker of the embassy, who was employed to be an interpreter, informed him she had made hundreds of promoting Venezuelan passports and visas, he mentioned. And he may make some huge cash, too.
However Lopez mentioned he informed her it was unsuitable and he refused.
The worker pressed the difficulty, telling him there have been hundreds of to be made, he mentioned, even discussing a suggestion to promote visas to 13 Syrians for $10,000 every.
And, Lopez, mentioned, she informed him he may get a lower of the cash, too.
Once more, he mentioned he refused.
“I think it is perhaps terrorists; that is why I reject, in fact, instantly,” Lopez mentioned.
And he mentioned it simply received worse.
Lists of names
Lopez mentioned he was shocked when he discovered a doc contained in the embassy. It was a listing of 21 Arabic names with corresponding Venezuelan passport numbers and Venezuelan identification numbers. A Venezuelan immigration official informed CNN cross-check of the passport numbers indicated that the passports are legitimate and match the names on the checklist Lopez discovered — that means the folks on the checklist may have the ability to journey utilizing these passports.
However extremely, a publicly out there database in Venezuela examined by CNN reveals 20 of the 21 identification numbers are registered to folks with Hispanic names — not the Arabic names listed on the passports.
Lopez stored investigating what was happening contained in the embassy. He mentioned he even discovered the case of a convicted drug supplier with an Iraqi identification certificates that seems to indicate he was born in Iraq. However the man had a Venezuelan passport that mentioned he was born in Venezuela.
He stored proof and notes of what he discovered.
Involved that the passport and visa scheme was persevering with with out his information, Lopez investigated the embassy worker who he mentioned had supplied to promote passports. He took photographs of her desk the place he says he discovered the embassy’s official stamp, used to authenticate visas, in addition to sheets of papers printed with the Venezuelan authorities seal.
He finally fired the worker. Lopez didn’t have another paperwork that will affirm the allegations towards her.
The worker didn’t reply to repeated requests from CNN for remark.
In April 2014, solely 9 months after he began the job, he emailed a report back to Ambassador Velasco concerning the alleged promoting of passports and visas. By then, he mentioned he was satisfied that Velasco knew about what was happening contained in the embassy.
“He is been there since 2008,” Lopez mentioned. “How may he (have) been there so lengthy, could not discover that?”
He mentioned Velasco did nothing and even threatened to fireside him.
By 2015, pissed off that nobody would examine, he took what he discovered to Delcy Rodriguez, Venezuela’s overseas minister. His emailed report mentioned there was “fraudulent issuing of visas, beginning certificates and Venezuelan paperwork.”
He mentioned nothing occurred.
Going to the FBI
Ultimately, with nowhere else to show, Lopez contacted an FBI official on the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. The 2 met at a restaurant throughout the road from the embassy, and the official despatched Lopez’s info to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., a legislation enforcement supply mentioned. The FBI wouldn’t remark about what occurred with the knowledge.
For Lopez, it was his remaining try to get one thing carried out.
However it was too late.
By the tip of 2015, the Venezuelan authorities accused Lopez of “abandoning his put up” and eliminated him. A police official confirmed up at his house in Venezuela with a doc that mentioned he was underneath investigation for revealing “confidential paperwork or secrets and techniques.”
Searching for solutions
In an e mail, Velasco strongly denied Lopez’s allegations.
“This embassy is prepared open to be audit [sic] and investigated for any worldwide group and clever [sic] Providers as properly, I haven’t got nothing to cover or worry. I ensure [sic] that underneath my duties this embassy do not by no means [sic] and ever promote Venezuelan nationalities, this can be a joke for all of the worldwide safety group [sic] and we already cooperate with the (Iraqi) authorities and worldwide clever [sic] service,” the e-mail learn in English.
In an try to get solutions, a staff from CNN en Español traveled to Caracas final June. In a letter, the federal government restricted CNN’s protection to tales associated to tourism, climate, different power sources and relations among the many totally different authorities establishments in Venezuela.
Rodriguez, the overseas minister, ignored reporter Rafael Romo when he tried to query her at a press occasion.
A authorities official informed the CNN en Español staff that any questions concerning the passport allegations can be grounds for expulsion from the nation.
On a second go to to Caracas final August, a CNN en Español producer and videographer have been compelled to go away the nation after Venezuelan authorities impounded CNN digital camera tools on the airport.
Final September, Rodriguez represented Venezuela on the United Nations Basic Meeting. Contained in the UN, she once more ignored CNN’s try to ask her questions.
Lastly, CNN was in a position to converse along with her as she was strolling with a small group on the sidewalk throughout from the UN. As she walked away from the crews, she mentioned, “You are going to damage your self for following the lies of an individual who would not know what he is speaking about.” She mentioned allegations of promoting passports and visas have been “completely” false.
However it’s not the primary time allegations about Venezuelan passports have been made public.
Hyperlinks to terror
U.S. lawmakers heard studies about Venezuelan passport fraud throughout congressional hearings way back to 2006. The truth is, a congressional report warned, “Venezuela is offering assist, together with id paperwork that might show helpful to radical Islamic teams.”
And a state division report on the time additionally concluded that “Venezuelan journey and identification paperwork are extraordinarily simple to acquire by individuals not entitled to them.”
Roger Noriega, the previous US ambassador to the Group of American States and former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, mentioned in ready remarks earlier than a congressional in 2012 that “Venezuela has supplied hundreds of phony IDs, passports and visas to individuals of Center Jap origin.”
Noreiga, who’s now managing director of Imaginative and prescient Americas and works for a conservative suppose tank, informed CNN that proof started to emerge in 2003 in Venezuela that passports have been being issued to non-Venezuelans.
“I completely imagine, and I state it so publicly, that if we don’t get our arms round this drawback, persons are going to die, both our allies or our personal personnel or amenities are going to be attacked by networks abetted by the Venezuelans,” Noriega mentioned.
The U.S. State Division declined CNN’s request late final yr for an interview, as an alternative emailing a hyperlink to its 2015 nation terrorism overview. That report concluded, “There have been credible studies that Venezuela maintained a permissive atmosphere that allowed for assist of actions that benefited recognized terrorist teams.”
A 2013 confidential intelligence report from a bunch of Latin American nations obtained by CNN says that from 2008 to 2012, 173 people from the Center East have been issued Venezuelan passports and IDs. Amongst them have been folks related to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The official who ordered the issuing of the passports, the report mentioned, is Tareck El Aissami, who was appointed vice chairman of Venezuela in January. He’s the previous minister accountable for immigration in addition to a governor.
El Aissami “took cost of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing residents from totally different nations, particularly Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians and Iraqis,” the report mentioned.
He didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.
One other high-profile Venezuelan linked to terrorism is Ghazi Nasr Al-Din, a former Venezuelan diplomat who labored within the nation’s embassy in Syria. He is “wanted for questioning” by the FBI for “his fundraising efforts” with Hezbollah contributors, in response to a discover on the FBI web site. The bureau confirmed that the knowledge was nonetheless energetic, however wouldn’t remark additional.
U.S. officers say he has “facilitated the journey” of Hezbollah members to and from Venezuela, in response to a 2008 press launch from the U.S. Treasury Division.
Leaks within the course of
What allegedly occurred in Iraq is not any shock to Basic Marco Ferreira, who was accountable for Venezuela’s immigration workplace in 2002.
In the present day, Ferreira resides in Miami after being granted political asylum after he supported a 2002 failed coup towards Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chavez. He informed CNN that he personally witnessed corrupt senior officers ordering passports for individuals who weren’t residents when he was operating the division. He added anybody may get a passport at a neighborhood workplace as a result of every labored independently.
He mentioned it was “very simple” to imagine another person’s id.
“One of many issues was the corrupted those who was working in that place,” Ferreira mentioned. “The second was the fragility of the system as a result of all the pieces was very previous they usually have a number of leaks within the course of.”
He mentioned it was “very, very simple to go and be Venezuelan, or faux being born in Venezuela.”
Requested about what Misael Lopez described because the alleged passport and visa-selling operation on the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq, he mentioned he was not stunned.
As for Misael Lopez, he is dwelling modestly in Spain, the place he additionally has citizenship; he is aware of he cannot return to Venezuela.
Together with his security all the time a problem, he nonetheless says he needed to inform his story. And going public, he hopes, will assist shield him and his household.
“I did the suitable factor and I am proud it,” he mentioned. “No regrets in any respect.”