Pakistan today sparked a diplomatic spat with Britain by claiming that allegations of rape and child abduction made against two envoys at its London embassy were made by their wives to help asylum applications.
The extraordinary intervention follows the publication by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) earlier this week of figures for “serious and significant” criminal offences alleged against diplomatic staff based at embassies in Britain. In at least one of the cases, investigations by Scotland Yard are still ongoing.
The data, which showed that 14 foreign diplomats faced allegations of crimes last year including claims of drink driving by two Saudi Arabian envoys, revealed that one official at Pakistan’s High Commission in London had been accused of domestic rape and another of child abduction.
The allegations against the two unnamed Pakistani officials were the most serious to be levelled against foreign diplomats serving in Britain last year. The maximum sentence for rape is life imprisonment and seven years’ imprisonment for child abduction.
Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic staff are expected to obey the laws of their host nation but are also granted immunity from prosecution, which can only be waived by their own country.
If a country refuses to lift that immunity, the host nation is powerless to stop a diplomat accused of a crime from leaving, as notoriously happened in the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher by a gunman inside Libya’s London mission in 1984.
The FCO said it had asked for diplomatic immunity to be waived in five of the most serious allegations last year, including those levelled at the Pakistani envoys, but declined to discuss the outcome of individual cases.
In one case, immunity was partially lifted to allow a diplomat to be interviewed by police and investigations are continuing, though it is not known if this relates to either of the allegations against the Pakistani officials.
The Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry initially failed to comment on the claims. But today it responded to what it said were “misleading media reports” and alleged that in both cases the officials based in Pakistan’s Knightsbridge embassy seemed to have been targeted by claims made by their spouses to try to ensure they were allowed to remain in Britain.
In a weekly press briefing the ministry’s official spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam Khan, said that in the rape claim, the wife had also alleged her diplomat husband had abducted their children.
The Pakistani authorities claimed that in reality the woman had given birth to a premature baby and been unable to look after her older children, who were returned to family members in Pakistan with her consent.
Ms Khan said: “Matrimonial relations between the couple became tense as she wanted to settle in [the] UK permanently under any circumstances, while [her husband] was not inclined. On his refusal, she levelled these charges.”
The ministry claimed that the second case of alleged child abduction was similar and involved a wife who was seeking asylum and had made contact with unnamed women in London “who even employed her in their laundry”.
Ms Khan added: “So, in both cases [the] allegations seem to be motivated by desire to seek asylum.”
The intervention is likely to complicate relations between London and Islamabad, particularly if investigations into at least one of the Pakistani cases are still ongoing.
As well as the continuing investigation in which a diplomat was formally interviewed, both police and the FCO are still awaiting a decision on whether immunity will be lifted in another of the five most serious cases. The other allegations are a claim of sexual assault against a Zambian diplomat and two of actual bodily harm against envoys from Cameroon and Zambia.
The FCO said that in two cases, diplomatic immunity had not been waived and the suspect returned voluntarily to his or her native country and in another a diplomat had been expelled.
Pakistan is not the only nation likely to be discomfited by the allegations of law breaking by its diplomats.
The drink drive claims against the two Saudi officials are particularly embarrassing given the ban on alcohol in the country and previous examples of criminal conduct by the oil-rich monarchy’s elite while living in the West. Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Nasir al-Saud, the grandson of King Abdullah, was jailed in 2010 for the murder of his manservant in a sexually-motivated attack in a London hotel.
FCO officials today declined to comment on the remarks by their Pakistani counterparts. Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds said earlier this week: “The FCO does not tolerate foreign diplomats breaking the law. We take all allegations of illegal activity seriously.”
Officials at the Pakistani High Commission in London have accused the FCO of releasing “sketchy” information about the allegations and said it was “contesting the veracity” of the claims.
In a statement, the High Commission said: “The cases have their roots in the long standing family disputes where a member of the family had complained against the spouse. The High Commission for Pakistan is contesting the veracity of these allegations with the FCO while taking full cognizance of its obligations under the Vienna Convention.”