U.S. diplomat busted for fraud

  • 2005-04-06
  • From wire reports
WASHINGTON/VILNIUS - U.S. federal prosecutors have charged a former employee of the American Embassy in Vilnius with bribery and visa fraud.
On April 5 41-year-old Matthew Christ, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, was arrested on charges contained in a 19-count indictment, including eight counts of visa fraud and bribery, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The U.S. State Department employee was later released on bond by a federal judge in Virginia.

Prosecutors said that Christ sold the visas between August 1999 and July 2001 while he was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius. The visas sold for $3,000 to $14,000 each.

According to the indictment, an unnamed co-conspirator in Chicago wired money to Lithuania where another defendant bought the visas from Christ.

Christ is suspected of having received over $40,000 in bribes, said the prosecutor, as well as an antiquarian BMW motorcycle.

Meanwhile, U.S. law enforcement has named Darius Reika, a 28-year-old Klaipeda resident, as the co-conspirator. According to case material, Reika may have indirectly bribed the embassy to issue U.S. visas to nine Lithuanian citizens in 2000.

All nine citizens left for America and told U.S. law enforcement officials they had paid co-conspirators up to $14,000 for their visas.

In June last year the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office launched a pretrial investigation into bribery of a public official and threats against a witness, in case the latter provided false evidence. The case is currently under investigation.

"Matthew Christ has been under investigation for some time. Lithuanian law enforcement institutions have co-operated with us on this important investigation," Anthony Pahigian, public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy, told the Baltic News Service.

During the investigation's initial stage, the U.S. diplomat suspected of bribery was not named. Reika, however, was under arrest when the United States asked for him to be extradited. Lithuanian courts have decided in two instances not to extradite Reika to the United States for prosecution. At the moment, the Klaipeda resident is free, although he remains a suspect in the Prosecutor General Office's pending investigation.

Under U.S. law, visa fraud could result in up to 10 years in prison.

"We cannot comment too much on Christ's specific case, as it's an open investigation, but the charges against him are substantial. Visa fraud is a very serious crime, and the State Department is vigilant in pursuing any allegations that the integrity of the visa process has been compromised," Pahigian said.