The case of the vanishing visa files

December 25, 2009 10:00:00 PM PST
Potentially important evidence has disappeared in a terrorism case involving two Chicago men. Their visa records vanished from Chicago's Indian consulate. It comes one week after the ABC 7 I-Team raised questions about how David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana obtained their foreign visas in the first place.

The case of the vanishing visa records has churned up diplomats from Mumbai to Michigan Avenue. India's foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters overseas Wednesday that she wants answers from Chicago's Indian consulate about the records and visa documents that have disappeared, records that might show how two accused Chicago terrorists obtained permission to scout targets in India.

Top officials of Chicago's India consulate wouldn't talk to the I-Team on camera last week when asked how terror suspects David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana obtained five-year, unlimited passage visas to India.

And the consul general did not return calls Wednesday regarding the paperwork they used to process Headley and Rana's visas, which Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao announced Wednesday have disappeared.

Wednesday evening, the Chicago consul general emailed a statement to the I-Team that conflicted with government statements made in India. The brief statement read: "We have not reported loss of any papers regarding issuance of visa to David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana Hussain. Relevant information concerning the issuance of visa to these persons is available with the Government of India".

India's counterpart to the FBI is looking into the visa application process as part of its probe into the 2008 Mumbai massacre.

The two Chicago suspects are accused of having roles in the assault. Rana was denied bond by a Chicago district judge Tuesday, despite family members and friends offering $1 million in cash and property. Rana has not been directly charged with the Mumbai attack that left 175 dead, but was linked to the assault in government court filings.

Headley, a Pakistan-born Chicagoan, is a convicted heroin dealer whose birth name was Daood Giliani. He changed his name to ease travel to India, according to federal prosecutors in Chicago and to avoid the required pre-visa background check by Indian authorities.

Since the time Headley and Rani were processed, India's Chicago consulate office began contracting out visa requests to a private company called Travisa Outsourcing that on its website claims, "We have revolutionized the way people get their visas."

And the new visa processing was subject of a news conference last year.

"The advantages of outsourcing is the Travisa company, which is handling the outsourcing, has set up a call center," said Ashok Kumar Attri, consul general.

Foreign Secretary Rao said she is impressed with the cooperation the US has given to Indian investigators.

Headley and Rana are not due back in court until January.


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