"Captive of the Chechens Not Allowed into US But She Wanted to See Disneyland"

Russkaya Reklama (New York)
(March 13, 2000)

"Captive of the Chechens Not Allowed into US But She Wanted to See Disneyland"
Russkaya Reklama (New York)
March 15, 2000
By David Gay

The General Consul of the US in Moscow has rejected the visa of 13 year old Saratov resident Alla Geyfman, who for seven months was held captive by Chechen bandits and suffered the cruelest forms of torture. Through the invitation of the American publishing house "Kontinent" the girl was to have flown to America for a medical examination and to see Disneyland.

Russkaya Reklama has already written about what happened to Alla. Let us briefly recall her tortuous story. The sixth grade student at the Saratov gymnasium was kidnapped by Chechens in May of last year. One of them, dressed in a police uniform, asked her to get into his car, having said that if not, her mother would suffer. The bandit then took the schoolgirl down the road and vanished into thin air. After changing their cars several times, the criminals took her to Chechnya.

After several days, the bandits called Alla's father Grigory Geyfman, the owner of the largest chain of stores in the region, and demanded a ransom of $5 million. Later, the sum was reduced to $2 million. The Geyfman senior promised to fulfill the demand, while asking that they give him more time. Suddenly, losing their patience, the criminals decided to pressure the businessman. To this end, they cut off two of the girl's fingers and through their people, sent them to Geyfman. This had an effect on the father and he began to actively look for the money, despite the fact that the police told him that they would in any case free the girl and catch the bandits. But the first rescue attempt was unsuccessful: a group of Saratov MVD men sent to Chechnya to get the girl had a car crash. Several policemen died and the rest returned to Saratov.

On November 9th of last year, the Regional Department to Combat Organized Crime received information that the girl could be found in Shali, which was surrounded by federal forces. A rescue group was immediately sent there. On December 16th, the girl was freed. As was later explained by the MVD leadership, the girl was freed as a result of a special operation. But friends of the Geyfmans say that the entire operation consisted of paying over a $1 million ransom.

The girl, having experienced Chechen captivity, needed not only medical, but also psychological rehabilitation. Girgory Geyfman wanted to put her in a good clinic, but after paying the ransom, he had almost no money left.

Further events took place in the following way. On January 24th, Geyfman unexpectedly got an invitation from Edward Lozansky, the president of the "Kontinent" publishing house in Washington. He was so moved by the girl's story that he was ready to pay for her treatment in a local clinic. In addition, Lozansky decided to organize a series of press conferences during which Alla would tell the whole story of her Chechen captivity.

At Lozansky's request, on February 25th a representative of the publishing house in Moscow, Olga Kirillova, went with all the necessary documents and completed forms to the US General Consulate to request a visa for the Geyfmans. Kirillova asked that Consulate officials speed the procedure and paid $135 for quicker processing. But the visa request was denied. According to Kirillova, the General Consulate explained their decision by stating that "the girl's wounds have already healed."

In the meantime, at a press conference, the US General Consul Laura Clericci announced that the Geyfmans's visa request had supposedly not been rejected: "The documents were taken to the consulate by some sort of third party who did not have all the necessary information. Therefore, the consulate invited the girl's parents for an interview."

"We didn't get any invitation from the consulate," Grigory Geyfman stated, "and the Americans had already placed on Alla's passport a 221 stamp- a rejection of the visa request."

This sort of situation, unfortunately, is typical of the consulate service of the American embassy in Moscow.

I asked Edward Lozansky to comment on what had taken place:

"Our publishing house sent an invitation to Alla and her parents to visit the US in order to meet journalists and get a medical consultation and surgery. Alla also told us that she has three treasured wishes: to see the Statue of Liberty, to go to Disneyland, and to meet Bill Gates. We guaranteed that we could fulfil the first two wishes. About Bill Gates we had doubts, but that is now moot since the Geyfmans received the unexpected rejection of their visa application in the US Consulate in Moscow.

Our representative in Moscow, Olga Kirillova, took to the Consulate passports, forms, and photos and paid the necessary fee. The official told her that the decision would be made by Laura Clericci personally and asked Olga to wait in the reception area. After two and a half hours, the same official told Olga that the General Consul had rejected the Geyfmans without any explanation. In addition, he said that the Geyfmans should be grateful for this refusal, because now they did not have to waste time and money travelling from Saratov to Moscow for a useless conversation.

The next day we received from Saratov the following communication:

Naturally, "Kontinent" did not sit on the sidelines and we took extraordinary measures. Our friends from the American organization "Free Congress Foundation" sent out a press release. We also asked for the help of the well known Jewish organizations the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the United Jewish Appeal and the Congress of Russian Americans [Translator's note: This last organization is not a Jewish organization.] As a result, many media sources in Russia, and even the influential Washington Post, ran stories on this issue. It is indicative that the US General Consul in Moscow, Laura Clericci, in an interview with the television station ORT tried to deny the rejection of the visa application of Alla and her parents, even though that rejection was stamped on their passports. Now the General Consul is promising to "put an end to this affair" and invite Alla and her parents to an interview at the embassy.

We then called Saratov and spoke to the girl's mother, Anna Garnikovna. According to her, Alla suffered serious psychological trauma in Chechen captivity and the recent events stemming from the rejection of the visa application has not helped her peace of mind. Anna Garnikovna told us that now she would like to give the girl the chance to calm down, and only after a consultation with doctors and psychologists decide on whether or not to go to the US. There is no need to subject Alla to more stress. Regarding the position of American officials, of course the US Consulate in Moscow is in its rights to define its priorities when it comes to decisions on visa applications. But one can't help be disturbed by the fact that recently more and more visa requests are being rejected- not only relatives of former Soviet citizens who left for the US, but also students invited to study at American universities, as well as scholars, teachers, famous Russian scientists, artists and educators.

Clearly, Laura Clericci does not make her own decisions, but is rather following some sort of new State Department policy which, in our opinion, does not in any way help the interests of the US and clearly does not aid the strengthening of Russian-American relations.

Finally, we got a call from the Manhattan hospital Mt. Sinai and were told that its famous surgeon Michael Hausman, a specialist on micro surgery on hands, is ready to give a free consultation to Alla Geyfman."

There is little to add to what Mr. Lozansky, a famous human rights activist and public figure who has a good reputation among both Russian speaking immigrants and in American circles, has said here. It is only left to ask the not at all rhetorical questions: Why is it that justified criticism of the work of the Consular Service of US embassies in the CIS is growing month by month? Why is everybody made to conform to the same pattern? Why the double dyed bureaucratism, which is trying to give as few as possible visas to the US, unless it is the wish of the State Department, despite the signals of disapproval about these Services which come from American human rights organizations?

It appears that there is a definite policy involved here, and this is regretted by all of us.

Translated by: Nickolai Butkevich
March 13, 2000

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