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
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The Independent Online

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