Murder, rape, assault: the secret crimes of London's diplomats
Behind the elegant façades of foreign embassies lurk drunks, drug-dealers and violent criminals, new figures reveal - and British authorities are powerless to prosecute them
Sunday 16 July 2006
Foreign diplomats can get away with murder. They are also escaping prosecution for rape, child abuse, indecent assault,fraud, bribery and possession of drugs and firearms.
For the first time, figures have been released showing the crimes committed by those who work behind the elegant facades of London's embassies. They reveal that between 1999 and 2004, 122 serious offences were allegedly committed by embassy staff - and Britain is powerless to prosecute. These include allegations of murder by a Colombian diplomat, two counts of indecent assault from South Africa - including an incident of drunken groping - and Morrocan embassy officials accused of rape and child abuse.
Embassy staff from France and Germany, stand accused of assault; while India is accused of conspiracy to steal; Germany of facilitating illegal immigration to the UK; and the Dominican Republic of fraud and money laundering.
Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, foreign officials, their spouses, children and staff are protected from prosecution by their host country.
The State Immunity Act 1978, the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1967 and the Consular Relations Act 1968 all carry additional protection for embassy staff. Personnel accused of a serious crime cannot be touched by UK law unless the sending state waives immunity to allow prosecution.
The only sanction the British government can impose is to declare embassy staff persona non grata, give them a police escort to the airport and put them on a plane home. In 2002 it was only the personal intervention of Tony Blair that pressured Colombia into waiving diplomatic immunity after two of its nationals, one a diplomat, were accused of murdering Damian Broom, a 23-year-old Tesco warehouseman.
The official figures, released for the first time by the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, show that behind the tinted windows and diplomatic number plates, embassy staff are consistently driving under the influence of alcohol.
Russia tops the league table of offenders, with four cases of its staff breaking the law out of a total of 59 offences by 41 named countries over the period.
Teetotal Saudi Arabia comes second with three staff committing similar offences, while another of its diplomats is accused of possession of class B drugs with intent to supply. The kingdom also comes first in instances of its staff possessing a firearm or offensive weapon and committing indecent assault.
Britain expelled a Saudi diplomat, Ali al-Shamarani, in 2003 after he allegedly bribed a Metropolitan police officer.
In 2004 police accused the then Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, of blocking an investigation into claims that a diplomat molested an 11-year-old girl. The Saudis refused to waive the diplomat's immunity, saying embassy staff were conducting an internal enquiry.
According to the figures, United States, Swiss and Libyan diplomats are also accused of possessing firearms or offensive weapons. Nigeria's embassy staff are shown to have handled stolen goods, arranged a sham marriage and committed ABH, while Angola is accused of robbery and assault. Meanwhile Zimbabwe's personnel top the league of driving without insurance, while Swaziland is accused of vehicle theft and Mongolia of smuggling.
In 2000, citing diplomatic immunity, a senior South African diplomat in the UK escaped charges after allegedly drunkenly groping two air stewardesses and shouting racist abuse on a South Africa Airways flight from Johannesburg to London.
Following the siege at the Libyan embassy in 1984, during which WPC Yvonne Fletcher was killed, the Thatcher government came under pressure to restrict diplomatic immunity. Evidence at the time pointed to the embassy as the origin of her gunshot wounds, fired from a weapon carried to Britain in a diplomatic bag.
In the 1990s diplomatic bags became a by-word for drug-running, forcing the government to threaten to use sniffer-dogs and scanners on inviolable baggage, but stopped short of threatening the arrest of foreign diplomats.
More recently, the US government decided to bail out its overseas staff accused of not paying parking fines. It totted up the penalties its diplomats had incurred and deducted the total from that country's foreign aid.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The UK is unable to unilaterally change the terms of the Vienna Convention to which the UK is signed and adheres to."
The spokesman added that there are 23,000 diplomats in London and that in 2004 only 11 serious offences were committed.
Additional reporting by Stefan Lugo-Labiejko
The charge sheet: Saudis head list of offenders
Colombia: 1 count
Morocco: 2 counts
Saudi Arabia: 3 counts
South Africa: 2 counts
POSSESSION OF A FIREARM OR OFFENSIVE WEAPON
Saudi Arabia: 2 counts
South Africa: 2 counts
ACTUAL BODILY HARM
Nigeria: 1 count
ROBBERY AND ASSAULT
Angola: 1 count
Saudi Arabia: 1 count
Dominican Republic:1 count
Offences committed 1999-2004
Scottish independence: Scots of Corby take matters into their own hands in mock referendum - and deliver overwhelming verdict
Protesters fight to save Arturo, the polar bear sweltering in baking hot zoo
Fry ‘criticises Operation Yewtree in dinner party rant’ calling for tougher laws to deter false sex abuse allegations
Supermoon 2014 in pictures: Moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Saharan remains may be evidence of first race war, 13,000 years ago
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action
- 1 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
- 5 Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country