The stunning postcard-perfect vista surrounding Misael Lopez in this town about one hour from Madrid belies his constant anxiety, even fear.
That’s because the former legal adviser to the Venezuelan Embassy in Iraq is revealing secrets he says his government doesn’t want disclosed.
“I’m concerned about my safety and my family’s safety everywhere I go,” Lopez said as he walked the cobble-stoned streets of Toledo.
Lopez, 41, says he reported what he says was a scheme to sell passports and visas for thousands of dollars out of the embassy and repeatedly turned down offers to get a cut of the money. But it was the response from his government — which has denied his allegations — that surprised him the most.
CNN and CNN en Español teamed up in a year-long joint investigation that uncovered serious irregularities in the issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas, including allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism. The investigation involved reviewing thousands of documents, and conducting interviews in the U.S., Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.
One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The accusation that the country was issuing passports to people who are not Venezuelan first surfaced in the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the country’s president, interviews and records show.
A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.
Over the course of the CNN investigation, Lopez provided documents that show he repeatedly told Venezuelan officials about what he discovered. But he said instead of investigating his allegations, the government targeted him for disclosing confidential information. U.S. officials were also made aware of his findings.
“You cannot be a cop, and a thief at the same time,” Lopez said. “I decide to be a cop and do the right thing.”
Doing the right thing has cost him.