NEW YORK — U.S. authorities yesterday arrested a U.N. translator accused of running an extravagant scheme with two partners to sell U.S. visas, mostly to nationals from the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan.
Vyacheslav Manokhin, a relatively low-ranking U.N. staffer, is accused of requesting, on U.N. letterhead, visas for aliens to attend U.N. conferences that didn't exist or real conferences that the visitors did not attend.
The United Nations said it waived Mr. Manokhin's diplomatic immunity last week.
Mr. Manokhin, 45, and two associates are charged with "conspiracy to commit fraud with regard to immigration documents," a scheme that had apparently been in operation since at least April 2005.
"Manokhin used his position at the U.N. to make it appear as though the U.N. supported the visa applications, so that the aliens could enter the United States, purportedly to participate in conferences organized by non-government organizations (NGOs), by the U.N. or by entities associated with the U.N.," read a statement issued yesterday by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Garcia.
"In most instances, the alien was successful in obtaining a visa and entering the United States," it said. Nine of 15 requests for entry visas were granted.
Mr. Manokhin's partner, Kamiljan Tursunov of Uzbekistan, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on July 25 for failing to appear at an immigration hearing.
He admitted paying $15,000 to an Uzbek associate for the false letter of invitation.
Mr. Tursunov told authorities that he moved to Florida and had lived there for two years.
During at least part of that time, he posed as an official of an Uzbek NGO.
Mr. Manokhin is a Russian translator specializing in disarmament and decolonization issues for the U.N. General Assembly.
He admitted that he sent the letters under the name of a fictitious official of the U.N. Development Program, which has offices in 150 countries around the world.
Another Manokhin partner, Vladimir Derevianko, is accused of participating by posing as the director of an NGO sponsoring some of the visas and using a Manhattan office as a return address.
Mr. Derevianko was born in what was then the Soviet Union and granted asylum in the United States in 2004.
Prosecutors say Mr. Manokhin allowed Mr. Derevianko to use his phone number in the fraudulent letters, which were signed by a fictitious U.N. Development Program (UNDP) official called "Leonardo Brackett" or a U.N. official named "Greg Smith."
When queried, the translator would say he was Mr. Brackett's assistant.
U.S. investigators said they checked hotels where the Uzbeks were supposedly staying and found no record of their occupancy.
They also checked lists of speakers and attendees of various U.N. conferences and did not find them listed.
Mr. Manokhin, 45, admitted to investigators that he allowed Mr. Derevianko to use his telephone number as a contact for U.S. authorities.
In addition, the two are among the "founding directors" of a nonexistent U.S.-based NGO that reportedly hosted some of the conferences.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said yesterday that the U.S. Attorney's Office requested and received the assistance of U.N. investigators but noted that the inquiry did not begin with the United Nations itself.
The charging document indicates that UNDP's office in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, may have been the first to suspect a problem.
Salvatore Dalessandro, the special agent in charge of the New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said his department determined that none of the Uzbeks who supposedly took advantage of the scheme have links to terrorist groups.
"But in a post-September 11 environment, ICE is aggressively dedicating resources towards identifying vulnerabilities and cutting off illegal avenues for individuals entering the country," he told The Washington Times yesterday.
He said Mr. Manokhin betrayed "the public trust" in the United Nations by "acting to legitimize their presence" in the country.