Lunes, 23 de enero de 2017

| 2009/01/30 00:00

Scheme to steal U.S. visas uncovered

Colombia’s Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), a state security agency, is investigating a network that steals U.S. visas for the mafia from passengers arriving at immigration in the El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá.

Scheme to steal U.S. visas uncovered

Mariana* arrived from Panama City last December 21. Because of her work, she travels internationally on a very frequent basis and is very familiar with the routines of entering and exiting Colombia. That is why on that day something seemed strange when she approached the DAS immigration counter at the El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá. “The officer was exceptionally friendly and very talkative. He asked me questions that they have never before asked me in immigration and, despite that there were many people waiting in line behind me, he started to chat with me about irrelevant matters,” Mariana told SEMANA. With the weariness from the trip, the rush to pick up her luggage and the anxiety of returning home, the young woman took her passport and left the terminal. When she arrived home, as she always does after a trip, she put away her passport in her safe. A couple of days later her saga began.

When she got ready to leave her house for the airport to board a flight bound for New York, Mariana checked her passport and noticed that the page where her multiple-visit visa for the United States was no longer there. It had been pulled out. Although now she couldn’t travel because she didn’t have the visa, Mariana went to the airport to look for and speak with DAS officials, as she was sure that the nice officer who spoke with her so much at the immigration counter had kept her visa. That trip to the airport was in vain.
Not only could she not speak with the officer who had attended her, but also his colleagues and some of his superiors told Mariana that “according to the law” they couldn’t accept any formal complaints because of the case.

Mariana was left worried. Not only because she didn’t have her U.S. visa, indispensable for her work, but rather because she did not understand why she could not establish a complaint and, additionally, she feared that her visa was being used in order to commit some sort of crime.

SEMANA has learned of four other similar cases of lost U.S. visas in the El Dorado airport occurring between October and December of last year. This magazine established that behind those losses of visas there is a complex network dedicated to the theft of those documents that has been operating for several months.

The business, known as “visas by order,” is as lucrative as it is simple and is managed by someone known in the world of organized crime by the alias of “El Gordo.” Basically the criminals call him, they give him the physical characteristics and age of the person interested in traveling to the U.S. “El Gordo” passes that information on to his contacts in immigration who seek out a victim among arriving Colombian travelers who hold U.S. visas.

Once the visa is stolen, it is sold for amounts ranging between 10 and 15 million COP ( $4,400 - $6,600 USD). The document is later assembled easily into a new passport. The person who buys that visa, obviously, assumes the identity of the person from whom it was stolen. That is precisely Mariana’s fear.

* Name changed for safety reasons

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