It's London calling: Bogota eyes absent attachées
Thursday 19 October 2006
* Bienvenidos! A hearty welcome to Colombia's former diplomats Vanessa Pretelt and Adrianne Foglia, who have quit the country's London embassy and gone awol in our capital.
The pair were recalled to Bogota (standard procedure after four years abroad), but according to Colombia's El Tiempo they failed to turn up for new jobs there. [See article, 2 August 2007]
Questions are being asked about the £14,600 repatriation money the women were given. Their disappearance has shocked the Colombian government, which is investigating the saga.
Pretelt is the daughter of Colombia's recently departed Minister of the Interior and Justice, Sabas Pretelt. Foglia, meanwhile, is known to foreign correspondents as "Colombia's secret weapon" for her shrewd handling of the international media, and has advised several South American governments.
The women deny any wrongdoing and say they were entitled to the money, as they did return to Colombia - albeit returning to London soon after. Pretelt wrote to El Tiempo at the weekend: "I did not make illegal use of the payments I received - the same as those received by other Colombian diplomats - as has been alleged."
She declined to reveal her exact whereabouts now.
"The Minister for Foreign Affairs in Bogota is in charge," says an embassy ex-colleague. "He is investigating. For sure they are not working here any more, they disappeared. Their families were in London, and one has a British husband.
"There is a lot of trouble to be reported here. We don't know where they are."
* Since snogging Hugh Grant in Love Actually and winning an Olivier for My Fair Lady, Martine McCutcheon has spent time below the radar - seemingly puckering up to another Hollywood pin-up.
She holed up in Vienna this summer with Dirty Dancing actor Patrick Swayze, filming Jump!, a 1920s drama about the Jewish celebrity photographer Philippe Halsman, wrongly convicted of murdering his father with an axe.
Swayze plays Halsman's passionate lawyer, in love with his client's sister (McCutcheon).
"I had his poster on my wall when I was a girl," McCutcheon said, giggling in the Gilt Champagne Lounge of the Carlton Tower Hotel. Did they kiss? "I can't tell you!"
McCutcheon recalls: "Once, all the camera crew were squashing me to try to get food. Then Patrick stepped up and everybody looked at him as he said: 'Nobody puts Martine in a corner.'"
Permission to be sick?
* There appears to be little love lost between two beacons of Britain's embattled film industry.
InProspect magazine, the Oscar-winning screenwriter Frederic Raphael takes a swipe at Stephen Daldry the director of Billy Elliot.
Raphael unfavourably reviews David Thomson's new biography on Nicole Kidman - but also takes the opportunity to tear chunks out of Daldry's film The Hours - "a confectioner's triple-decker, with its factitious claim to be serious, its take-me-tragically score and its booklover's-calendar quotes from the wearisome Mrs Dalloway".
"Freddie fell out with Daldry a few years back," I'm told. " Daldry agreed to film a script of his called Hiding Room but then backed out of it. There's been bad blood ever since."
* The deputy leader of the House of Commons, Labour's Nigel Griffiths, has been sounding off about the £2.4m loan the Liberal Democrats received from Michael Brown, convicted of perjury and using a false passport.
"The money should be returned immediately," he demands.
His close interest in politicians' financial affairs was, one hazards, sharpened by a parliamentary standards investigation in 2002 into his own office expenses.
Griffiths was accused of wrongly claiming £10,000 a year from public funds for his office in Edinburgh, which he already owned.
The standards commissioner cleared him, although found his claim for costs for his Westminster office to be "technically defective". Fire away!
* Not content with building runways in the Caribbean, sending aid to Africa and striking an oil deal here and there - not to mention calling George Bush "the devil" - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has resorted to more conventional means of convincing foreign statesmen that his country deserves a seat on the UN Security Council.
Venezuela gifted chocolates to delegates, and has now imported a crack team of Latin lovelies to charm those in need of a little gentle persuasion.
"They're not quite scantily clad," says a bag-carrier in the corridors of power, "but there is a bit of brushing of thighs with the older delegates."
Venezuela remains deadlocked with rival Guatemala after a record 22 rounds of secret voting, and exhausted diplomats decided they needed a break yesterday. No word on where Venezuela's female representatives spent their recreational time.
Simon Calder looks at communities fighting back against the poachers
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