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

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

MURDER

Colombia: 1 count

CHILD ABUSE

Morocco: 2 counts

INDECENT ASSAULT

Saudi Arabia: 3 counts

South Africa: 2 counts

POSSESSION OF A FIREARM OR OFFENSIVE WEAPON

Saudi Arabia: 2 counts

South Africa: 2 counts

Libya:1 count

ACTUAL BODILY HARM

Nigeria: 1 count

ROBBERY AND ASSAULT

Angola: 1 count

BRIBERY

Saudi Arabia: 1 count

MONEY LAUNDERING

Dominican Republic:1 count

Offences committed 1999-2004

News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape