U.N. Worker Jailed In Visa-Sale Scheme

U.N. Worker Jailed In Visa-Sale Scheme
Russian Said to Have Aided 14 Uzbeks

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007; Page A02

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 6 — A U.N. translator was charged Monday with conspiring to sell U.S. visas for $15,000 apiece to Uzbek nationals seeking to enter the United States.

Vyacheslav Manokhin, a Russian national who works in the U.N. General Assembly conferences division, is accused in court documents of conspiring to allow at least 14 illegal immigrants into the country. Manokhin was arrested Monday, as was an alleged co-conspirator, Vladimir Derevianko, who received U.S. political asylum in February 2004.

The United Nations cooperated with the investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Labor Department's inspector general's office, waiving Manokhin's diplomatic immunity, said Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, who announced the arrests.

Manokhin, 45, has been employed at the United Nations since the 1980s. He is the third Russian national implicated in an ongoing federal probe into corruption at the United Nations. Alexander Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement official, pleaded guilty in August 2005 to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from companies doing business with the United Nations, while Vladimir Kuznetsov, a former Russian diplomat, was convicted in March of conspiring with Yakovlev to launder more than $300,000 in bribes.

A Russian spokeswoman, Maria Zhakharova, said that her government was “surprised” to learn about Manokhin's arrest and that officials were trying to establish what had happened.

Manokhin faces up to five years in prison if convicted. Derevianko, who is also charged with lying to federal immigration officials, faces up to 10 years.

Manokhin's attorney, Robert Sikorski, said of his client: “Obviously, he's not guilty. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he got caught up in something he didn't know was going on around him.” Kenneth Ramseur, who represented Derevianko until his arrest, said the case is “very thin.”

The complaint charges that Manokhin prepared on U.N. letterheads fraudulent invitations to attend U.N. conferences. In some cases, the conferences did not exist; in others, the invitees did not attend the conferences after entering the United States. Manokhin also allegedly allowed his U.N. phone to be used as a contact number on immigration applications and agreed to confirm that the visa applicants were legitimate.

“Manokhin used his position at the U.N. to make it appear as though the U.N. supported the visa applications,” according to a statement from Garcia's office. “In most instances, the Alien was successful in obtaining a visa and entering the United States.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin N. Fox set bail of $300,000 for Manokhin and $250,000 for Derevianko.

The complaint lays out how Manokhin and Derevianko allegedly aided one Uzbek national, Kamiljan Tursunov, in illegally entering the country. After Tursunov paid $15,000, in two installments, to an unnamed individual in Uzbekistan in June 2005, Manokhin and Derevianko prepared a document on the letterhead of the U.N. Development Program inviting Tursunov to attend the Dialogue on Financing for Development that month at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The letter, signed by a fictitious UNDP official, was sent to the UNDP's office in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. It included a U.N. phone number for Manokhin, who posed as the official's assistant, according to the complaint. The UNDP branch subsequently requested an entry visa for Tursunov and another individual from the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent.

Tursunov was arrested two weeks ago for failing to appear at an immigration hearing. He has since admitted to federal investigators that he never intended to attend the development conference.