Some officials of the Indian consulate in Chicago have been illegally issuing passports to Indian nationals who have sought political asylum in the US in exchange for hefty bribes, according to a complaint made to the Indian external affairs ministry by an Indian American community leader.
Amrit Patel, a businessman and president of the India Cultural Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has alleged that the passport racket was handled through Rajubhaiya, a New York based middleman. Almost all of the beneficiaries are from the Punjabi American community, all of whom paid $3,000-3,500 each to have supporting documents manufactured and passports issued.
According to Patel's complaint, the applicant would contact Rajubhaiya with $200 and two photographs. Rajubhaiya would manufacture the supporting documents and set up an appointment with Indian consulate officials in Chicago. After the consulate-approved issue of the passport, the applicant had to hand over the remaining money to Rajubhaiya.
Patel has sent copies of the complaint to the Indian embassy in Washington DC. A senior diplomat at the Chicago consulate, who requested anonymity, confirmed the existence of the racket to IANS.
"After Patel's complaint, the Indian embassy sent an officer to inquire into the matter, but nothing seems to have come out of it," he said.
"Milwaukee has a large Punjabi American community. As far as I know, there have been at least 40 people from Milwaukee itself who have had such passports made. When the embassy inquiry officer came here, I had him meet with at least five people who had paid bribes to get their passports," said Patel.
Patel has named six people who allegedly paid bribes to have their passports issued. He has also attached copies of their green cards and US travel documents with his complaint.
Some of the applicants are residents of New York and California - states over which the Chicago consulate does not have any jurisdiction. In one of the letters from the American Embassy in New Delhi addressed to the US immigration inspector at the port of entry, the address of the asylum seeker is given as New York. Another letter from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service Asylum Office in San Francisco is addressed to another asylum seeker in Redwood City, California.
The Chicago consulate serves the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Apart from the payment of bribes, there is also the question of whether a political asylum seeker is even eligible for an Indian passport.
"If an Indian national claims political asylum on grounds of persecution by the Indian government, he loses his claim to an Indian passport," said the diplomat.
But applicants could apparently count on Rajubhaiya to resolve this issue.
"Rajubhaiya would make a fake green card (changing the category from one based on political asylum to a different one) so that the applicant is eligible for an Indian passport," said Patel.
There is also the nagging question about how the issue of fraudulent Indian passports could affect national security.
"These people (who got the passports) appear to be opportunists. But it could easily have been someone with terrorist intentions," said the diplomat. "A lot of people have minted money in this racket. Sadly, not one of them paused to ponder on how this would reflect on India's image abroad."