Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The trial of immigration officials accused of corruption continues as reported by the Ottawa Citizen:

$300 payment smoothed the way for permanent residency, Ottawa court told

OTTAWA — After shelling out thousands of dollars to a lawyer to help her and her children gain permanent residence in Canada, Abtissam El-Zein paid a man $300 to look into her immigration file and, within weeks, got exactly what she wanted, an Ottawa court heard Monday.
El-Zein was testifying in the trial of Diane Serre, a senior Citizenship and Immigration Canada manager accused of teaming up with Issam Dakik to take money from mostly Arab immigrants in exchange for fast-tracking their applications.
The Crown alleges Dakik would meet with the applicants and collect the money before contacting Serre, who would use her influence as a supervisor in the department’s Catherine Street office.
Serre, 41, has pleaded not guilty to 28 charges, including multiple allegations of fraud against the government and breach of trust of a public official. She is also charged with one count of bribery.
Dakik, who has pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme, along with credit card fraud, was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison in 2006. At the time, he admitted he paid Serre a portion of the proceeds of the scheme.
The scheme allegedly began in January 2003 and continued until December 2004, when Serre and Dakik were arrested by RCMP in an operation dubbed “Project Argon.” Nine applicants made the illegal cash payments, which the RCMP said at the time of Serre’s arrest ranged from between $4,000 and $25,000.
Through an Arabic interpreter, El-Zein told the court she came to Canada from Lebanon in 1999 with her husband and three children.
Her husband later died, and she and her children applied for refugee status to remain in Canada. The family appealed after their application was denied in 2001.
The immigration department later determined that the family would not be at risk if they returned to Lebanon and ordered them to be deported in 2004. They applied for refugee status on compassionate and humanitarian grounds and hired a lawyer to help navigate the system.
But El-Zein said she became frustrated with the lawyer’s costly efforts.
“I didn’t feel she was helping,” she said. She had paid the lawyer more than $5,000, in addition to the $1,500 application fee, and had nothing to show for it.
It was around that time that one of El-Zein’s friends gave her Dakik’s telephone number.
Their relationship was brought to life in the courtroom Monday through a dozen wiretapped telephone calls recorded between Nov. 25 and Dec. 9, 2004.
In a Nov. 25 call, El-Zein spells out her name and provides both her birthdate and immigration file number. She also outlines the details of her case and agrees to pay the man $300 in order to get a person he knows inside the immigration department to look at the file, she testified.
The next day, in a recorded call, Dakik tells El-Zein he has news about her file and arranges a time to come to her house later that evening, which is when she handed over the cash. Dakik doesn’t provide a receipt, the court heard.
Then, on Dec. 2, El-Zein receives a call from an unidentified woman who works at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Speaking to El-Zein’s son, the woman says the department will look at their file as soon as possible. “We’ll take a look and we’ll give you a call early next week,” the woman is heard saying during the short telephone call.
El-Zein could not identify the woman’s voice, but said in her dealings with the immigration department over the years, she couldn’t remember ever being called before.
Five days later, Dakik calls to say the immigration department will soon call El-Zein and ask her to come down to their Catherine Street office to get her papers. There’s another mention of payment, with Dakik pledging that he hoped the next instalment wouldn’t exceed what she’d already paid him.
On Dec. 9, the final wiretapped call played in court, El-Zein tells Dakik she’s been to immigration and has finally got her papers.
The court also heard from Mahmoud Ahmad Zbib, who came to Canada from Lebanon in 1988.
His two sisters followed him in 1999. One married a Canadian and became a permanent resident, while the other filled out the application and later hired a lawyer to follow up with the immigration department.
But her lawyer subsequently died and, fearing his sister’s file might get lost, Zbib turned to Dakik, whom he’d met socially a few times.
Zbib gave Dakik the particulars of his sister’s file because Dakik claimed to know a lawyer at Citizenship and Immigration who could help. It would cost, Zbib testified that Dakik said, but an amount was never specified.
Zbib’s sister was soon called to the Catherine Street office to pick up her permanent resident card.
Zbib told the court that about two or three months after learning Dakik had been arrested, the pair met at a Carling Avenue shawarma shop. Dakik told Zbib not to tell anyone about the help he gave the man, nor the money. “He asked me not to talk to anybody about what happened with my sister’s papers,” Zbib said.
Under cross examination, Zbib said he never suspected there was anything amiss about his dealings with Dakik.
The trial continues.

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