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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Big Fraud in the Far Abroad: Part III

This will be a shortish entry in the Long saga as I am preparing for some hectic days of traveling and packing. I will be off the grid for some six to eight days.

Please catch up on parts I and II.

We were scrambling in the wake of the China Air crash to determine whether Long had been on the plane. Her name did not appear on the passenger list, but those lists are notoriously inaccurate, often getting names and nationalities absurdly wrong. A couple of days into this, one morning I show up at the embassy and find Long and AC calmly having breakfast in the cafeteria. Shocked, I went to them, and blurted, "You're OK? You had us all worried that you were dead." Long ignored my comment and began chatting about how they had enjoyed Taiwan and Hong Kong where AC had gone from Cambodia. I remember saying, "Wait a minute. You do know the plane crashed into the ocean, don't you? The one you said you would be flying to Hong Kong." Long and AC glanced at each other, and Long smoothly crooned, "Oh, yes, that was terrible. Fortunately, I decided to go to Vietnam instead of Hong Kong. AC went to Hong Kong and then met me in Vietnam. I wasn't in Hong Kong. We had a great time in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. I visited my relatives, went shopping . . ." Then she laughed and began going on about the things she wanted to do to improve life for embassy employees. I became irritated and it showed, "You went to Vietnam? Did you clear that travel with the RSO?" She smiled, "I am going to take care of that now. It was an impulsive decision." AC said nothing, and stared into his coffee cup.

There was a nagging sensation in the back of my mind that I was being had. This had not yet blossomed into a full-blown, raging case of "I don't believe a word you say," but I could feel that something was up, and it wasn't good. Walking to the elevator, I kept thinking, "All that travel. How do they do that on their salaries, plus pay for all those kids and relatives, and schools in the States, and, and . . .?"

Now things get jumbled. As I noted at the start of this strange saga, I am not sure about the order of the following events, but I guess it does not really matter. Things began to happen in rapid fire succession and even at the same time.

As stated before, Long got along well with our Sri Lankan employees; she made sure their payroll issues were resolved quickly and fairly, and that our people had good medical coverage. She also worked hard to get them an improved retirement package. These employees seemed to appreciate her efforts. Apparently alone among this staff, the embassy doctor, a Sri Lanka Tamil woman, who had worked at the embassy for years, did not like Long and AC. The doctor was normally very discreet but one morning, as I got treated for some minor complaint, she said, "I am only a Sri Lankan employee. If I am out of line, please tell me and I will stop, but there is something I want to say about Long and her husband." I was taken aback by the usually shy doctor's words and tone, "Please, go ahead." The doctor, looking down at her desk, her hands bending and unbending a wooden tongue depressor, softly said, "They are doing something not honest. You should talk to the head of the motor pool. Why is it that he now has a new car? He is in some kind of business with Long and AC. He is always doing things for them that have nothing to do with work. I can't say anything more." Was this something genuine, or South Asian envy of another employee? Did she not like Long, for whom she worked, because Long was not a "real" American? I nodded and promised to check on the motor pool situation.

By "coincidence," that very afternoon Long came to my office--she visited there or four times a day even when we had nothing to discuss--to say that we needed a new doctor. The one we had, she claimed, was not very good; for what we paid we could get a young doctor with a more modern educational background, and, besides, some of the Sinhalese employees did not like having a Tamil doctor. This struck me as odd; I had never heard anything negative about the doctor. I told Long to get me something in writing and I would look at it. She left; I called the RSO. I told him to start checking the head of motor pool; he  said he was already doing some looking as "anomalies" existed in the drivers' logs.

Very early one morning, AC headed off to the Maldives. Our embassy covered that country, too, and we had regular visits to the Maldives by consular personnel to talk with the tiny American community there, and to address some immigration issues. He would be gone a few days. His bad luck.

Enter the Dutch.

Here I must go on a tangent, well, let's say provide context. The Embassy of the Netherlands, a former colonial ruler of old Ceylon, had a superb immigration officer: let's call her Anne. She was tall--at least 5'10"--broad-shouldered, blonde, brash, funny, and smart; she could have passed for a Texan line dancing cowgirl or an Aussie olympic swimmer or lifeguard. She had worked in the US in an exchange program with the INS and the Border Patrol and had loved it. Anne had served at JFK with the INS, and had crawled around in the dirt at night with the Border Patrol along the Texas-Mexico line. She had excellent English--don't all Dutch?--and had become a close friend of  the American Embassy. A further small digression: I first met Anne at a reception given in my honor by one of our senior officers, let's call him Dave, when I arrived in Colombo. Dave, who was openly gay, and I were standing together in the receiving line when Anne, also a new arrival, came through the line. Upon learning she was Dutch, Dave said to her, "Did you know that my partner is a Dutch musician?" Anne said, "How nice," and turned to me and began speaking Dutch. I quickly blurted out, "No! No! Not me! I am the new American DCM here. That's my wife over there." Anne and I later laughed a lot about that non-PC incident. One more bit of background: Anne had an interesting job in Colombo. She worked at the international airport pre-screening travelers on their way to the Netherlands and the EU.

My phone rang after midnight. The Marine guard said, "Sir, sorry to bother you but there's a lady from the Dutch embassy who wants to talk to you. Something about a visa. I couldn't find AC or his boss, so she said she wants to talk to you." I took it. Calling from Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport, Anne said that while screening travelers heading for Amsterdam, she had spotted an Indian national with a US visa. She said, "It's none of my business but this man has been in Colombo not even 24 hours. Why didn't he get a visa for the US in India? I asked and he said he came specifically to Colombo to get a US visa." I remember telling Anne, "It's too bad AC isn't here to check this out, but we don't give visas to people from outside of our jurisdiction--especially not somebody who arrives less than a day before. The visa has to be fraudulent. Can you get the Sri Lankans to hold him until I can send somebody to interview him?" She said yes, but before hanging up, added, "Lewis, sorry to say this, but the visa looks good. I don't think it's fake."

To be continued when I get back from Washington DC.

Sorry for the length, but this story has lots of parts. Be patient and kind until my return . . . and I will tell you the story of the Marine "drill" in my office . . .


  1. OMG! This just gets better each chapter.

  2. "Lewis, sorry to say this, but the visa looks good. I don't think it's fake." Now you've got to be very careful about what moves you make now. It's somebody inside, so it's not just who, but possibly more than one. Who to trust?

    " I am preparing for some hectic days of traveling and packing. I will be off the grid for some six to eight days."
    Running for the border while you still can, eh Amselem!
    James the Lesser

  3. Oh boy....the plot thickens. I will wait for the next chapter with the patience of a cat on a hot tin roof! Safe travels.

  4. Amazing story. But, then, it's just one of dozens the Diplomad and wife have from their past.

    Goes to show you that when we enjoy people as friends, it's disturbing to have many "odd" irregularities show up about them, because then we have to truly re-evaluate everything we know about them.

    Lived five years in the middle of the Netherlands; most Dutch speak English better than we do, plus 3 or 4 other languages! Truly a hospitable country with amazing citizens. We watched our milkman's son, 12, begin English at school. In nine months, he could speak, understand, and laugh at slang Americans used all their lives. It was amazing to watch. We'd come home from baseball games on base and we'd have milk bottle empties gone and fresh milk and cream in our refrigerator. We rarely locked the back door, especially if the milkman was coming, which happened Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Wonderful memories!

    Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to read it all and hope there is some sort of punishment at the end for the fraud.


  5. Can you figure out how to work more of Anne into the story -- doesn't have to have been factual.

  6. You know that feeling of being torn between wanting a story to continue, but yearning for the denouement quickly? That's where you have us, Dip. Love it! Thanks. Safe travels.

  7. Quick slightly OT/idebar about the Dutch.
    While I was stationed at the AmEmb AbuDhabi/UAE, our RSO got a call from his counterpart at the Dutch embassy. Seems they couldn't get one of their safes opened. Could we help?
    So the 'Bee(a SCPO) and I drove over to see what'sup. It was an older two-key and combo safe, and the keys wouldn't turn because the combo wouldn't work. Short version was it took us about 20 minutes to pop the thing without any damage to the safe. The RSO/Dutch DCM(?) couldn't believe we had done it that quickly and personally thanked us. He told us that he called our RSO because he "knew" our Emb would have some people who could open safes... because the Americans could do anything.

  8. We want a Russian novel, ideally a thousand pages or more (or whatever the equivalent is in eBooks). You know this. And three posts in you say: "Sorry for the length."

    You said that just to turn the screws on your faithful six readers, didn't you? Didn't you?

  9. I enjoy this site and all of your posts, but this saga has me hooked! Concur with a6z that 1,000 pages would be a good read. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Very juicy stuff, Dip. Ever think about writing a novel? "The names have been changed to protect the innocent, etc. etc. etc." All 13 of us would buy it!

    Safe and joyous travels!


  11. As a former consular scut, I have a suspicion about where this is going, but I will refrain from saying anything.

  12. I skipped ahead with a google news search. Interesting story indeed!

    1. I did that as well. Surprised at how common this is.


  13. I considered applying to get into the foreign service after I retired from the army but it seemed my sort were not welcomed. Keep on keeping on.