Press Centre

Exposure: Inside The Diplomatic Bag

Published: Wed 26 Mar 2014

Exposure: Inside The Diplomatic Bag
10.35pm tonight on ITV
Diplomats ‘responsible for 88 crimes’, new ITV probe reveals.
Diplomatic workers in the UK were accused of 88 serious crimes over six years including human trafficking and sexual assault, a new ITV programme reveals.
ITV’s Exposure examined Foreign Office statistics on alleged offences committed by diplomats between 2007 and 2012, discovering that dozens of individuals from foreign embassies were accused of a wide range of crimes punishable by jail sentences in Britain.
Of the countries whose diplomats allegedly committed the crimes, Saudi Arabia tops the list with 11 alleged offences, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia with five, Cameroon with four and the Ivory Coast and Ghana with three each.
Former diplomat Eamon Delaney told Exposure: Inside The Diplomatic Bag, which airs at 10.35pm tonight, that diplomatic immunity is out of control: “There’s no need for so many diplomats and so many staff of embassies to walk around with immunity and with diplomatic passports: it’s an indulgence, it’s outdated, and it is a license to abuse.”
Most alleged offences related to driving, but others included sexual assault, human trafficking, actual bodily harm, threatening to kill and robbery. The statistics show that of the 11 offences allegedly committed by Saudi diplomats, two concern human trafficking while one alleges sexual assault.
Diplomats from foreign countries in Britain qualify for immunity from prosecution for even the most serious crimes. The Saudi embassy told Exposure that serious action is taken against any diplomat found to have broken UK laws.
The programme also contains undercover footage of Nigerian High Commission worker Alfa Abutu claiming he could use the diplomatic bag - which is immune from search by officials when crossing borders - to illegally smuggle art, cash, gold and diamonds out of the country through ‘any airport’.
This is despite the fact that Abutu, because he is an embassy worker rather than part of the diplomatic corps, does not have diplomatic immunity and has no access to the diplomatic bag.
Yet when Abutu meets Exposure reporter Mark Williams-Thomas, posing undercover as a criminal who wants to move art out of the country using the diplomatic bag, he reassures him it won't be intercepted as it crosses borders: “Give me your suitcase, this suitcase usually has to be wrapped with the national flag before we can move it anywhere. And we use diplomatic vehicle whereby the police authorities will not stop us.”
He later suggested a commission totalling a quarter of a million pounds. Abutu also claimed he could help transfer money, and smuggle diamonds and gold out of the country using an embassy car and its associated privileges. “The easiest way is that, let’s say this box is loaded with $1m and they are going out with it or gold, or diamond. With my link, we use a diplomatic vehicle from there straight to Heathrow or Gatwick. They will not open the box they are bringing out. It’s not a problem.”
Yet he appeared to draw the line at drug smuggling - because he feared for the safety of his pension. “The only thing that I cannot get involved with because of my career is drugs… you will not become pensionable again.”
When asked to comment on Exposure’s findings, Abutu denied any wrongdoing and said he’s never been involved in criminal activities. He said he is local staff, not a diplomat, doesn’t have diplomatic immunity and couldn’t have assisted the Exposure team to move an item. He said he believed our undercover reporter was not genuine but decided to play along with him.
Following the revelations, the Nigeria High Commission immediately suspended Abutu from his position in the Accounts Department. Spokesperson Ahmed Inusa said:
“[The Commission] supports the press and the media in their good work to expose embassy workers…who either pose as diplomats with a view to committing criminal acts for financial gains or diplomats who abuse their diplomatic privileges for any reason.”
The Commission told Exposure that Abutu ‘tried to fool investigators into believing that he is [a diplomat] for personal financial gain’, and it utterly condemns Abutu's conduct, which was entirely personal and nothing to do with them.
After viewing the undercover footage, Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart who has lobbied on the issue of diplomatic staff who abuse their positions in Britain, described Abutu’s claims as ‘really shocking’. She said: “Diplomatic channels are necessary in order to move secrets, in order to protect diplomats in countries which don’t respect the rule of law in the way that Britain does – and yet that means that they can be abused in this way.”
Yet Mr Delaney says he was aware during his time as a diplomat of diplomatic bags being used by other countries to transport illegal items: “Illicitly it was used to send soft drugs, cannabis, marijuana certain art objects that shouldn’t have been moved out of the country. I would know of situations known to others where more serious items like such as weapons, explosives have been transferred by counties in the Middle East or Africa and they’re moved to European settings where they could be used for activities which were really sinister.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the UK expects a high standard of behaviour from foreign diplomats. It regularly reminds missions of their obligations, including payment of parking fines and the congestion charge. It says the number of alleged offences committed by diplomats is low, but it takes a firm line with those who break the law, always raises alleged offences with the mission concerned and where appropriate seeks waivers of immunity or the immediate withdrawal of the diplomat. It says diplomatic immunity helps to protect its staff serving overseas, often in difficult environments.
Editor’s notes
1) If any material from this press release or programme is used for print, broadcast or online, you must credit Exposure: Inside The Diplomatic Bag ITV 10.35pm tonight.