Puebla, Mexico, February 10, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan diplomatic officials in Iraq may have fraudulently sold hundreds of passports, according to allegations made in a CNN article this week.
The article cited claims made by former Venezuelan diplomatic staffer Misael Lopez, who worked at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq between 2013 and 2014. Lopez alleged he witnessed other embassy officials selling Venezuelan passports to non-Venezuelans, including Iraqi and Syrian nationals.
Lopez also alleged the recipients of fraudulent passports may have included criminals and terrorists.
The CNN story has already sparked international controversy. On the same day the story was published, 34 US lawmakers demanded a tightening of US sanctions on Caracas.
The CNN story was the first time Lopez’ allegations were published by a major English language news outlet. However, Lopez’ claims are nothing new in Venezuela, where his story was published by a number of Spanish language news outlets in late 2015. The allegations were also picked up by Colombian cable news channel NTN24.
At the time, Lopez said he fled his job in Iraq amid fears of retribution for his investigations into the alleged passport fraud, which included conducting a search in the office a locally hired Iraqui translator during which Lopez says he found used official stamps and blank documents with official letterheads. The former diplomat said he was aided in his escape by another embassy official who didn’t make it out alive.
“The official who helped me in the investigation was killed the same afternoon that he helped me take a plane out of Baghdad,” he said in 2015.
The CNN report didn’t mention this incident. Instead, it stated, “By the end of 2015, the Venezuelan government accused Lopez of ‘abandoning his post’ and removed him. A police official showed up at his home in Venezuela with a document that said he was under investigation for revealing ‘confidential documents or secrets´. Lopez had previously divulged the information to the FBI, reports CNN.
The Venezuelan government is yet to respond to the allegations, though Venezuelan ambassador to Iraq Jonathan Velasco denied Lopez’ claims in an email to CNN.
In an exchange with a CNN reporter outside the United Nations in 2016, Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez described Lopez’ claims as “lies”.