The 6 Most Ridiculous Abuses of Diplomatic Immunity
Some of you only know the concept of diplomatic immunity from movies like Lethal Weapon 2, which have featured evil diplomats who use their immunity as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card after a hard day of killing, drug and firearm trafficking and attempting to blow up the toilets of senior policemen who have had enough of this shit.
In reality, this immunity is granted to keep diplomats from being harassed while they do their work in unfriendly nations. It makes sense, but as you can suspect, people abuse the living hell out of it, often to a hilarious and/or terrifying degree ...
The Case of the Pipe-Smoking Terrorist
In 2010, Mohammed al-Madadi, an envoy from Qatar, was flying from Washington, D.C., to Denver, when he suddenly found himself craving a smoke. From here on out, we want you to imagine what would have happened had, say, you done this.
Al-Madadi retired into the bathroom, turned off the smoke alarm, took out a pipe (because if you're about to break the rules, you might as well go all out) and puffed away until a flight attendant smelled smoke and got suspicious. The flight attendant confronted al-Madadi, who emerged from the smoke-scented bathroom still holding his lighter, and asked what exactly the passenger was doing in there.
Al-Madadi, possibly offended that this puny non-diplomat insisted on talking to him, answered with a blank stare and responded that he had, in fact, been trying to light his shoes on fire. Unfazed, the flight attendant asked al-Madadi for his lighter, which he of course refused.
So, let's recap: A suspiciously behaving man exits a bathroom that omits a strange smoke, makes a direct reference to Richard Reid's post 9/11 shoe-bombing attempt and refuses to cooperate with the staff. On a plane.
From that point, things escalated like the world's strangest Benny Hill sketch. The plane's U.S. marshals were called over to calm al-Madadi down. They grabbed him, put him in his seat and, while keeping an eye on him, alerted the pilot of the situation. The pilot, in turn, kicked things up a notch by sending out a "potential terrorist" status report, which led to the usual motions for this kind of situation, including sending out fighter jets and actually alerting President Obama about a terrorist scenario. You know, usual diplomat stuff.
Al-Madadi's ass was detained the second the plane landed, which is when it was found that he was, no shit, on his way to meet with a terrorist who was implicated in 9/11.
Now fresh with a bucketload of terrorist accusations and a pretty big-ass bill for getting those fighter jets up on his back, and likely facing some serious jail time, what did al-Madadi do?
If you said immediately invoked diplomatic immunity and waltzed away to Qatar scot-free, then congratulations! You have a good sense of what's coming in the rest of this article.
Mexican Press Attache Steals White House Phones
The North American's Leadership Summit is an annual event between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that more or less serves as an excuse for the USA to pat its neighbors on the back and tell them that they totally matter, too. In other words, it is a peaceful event with the sole purpose of strengthening the bonds between the three nations ... which makes the stunt pulled by Mexican press attache Rafael Quintero Curiel at the 2008 summit an even bigger dick move.
At the meetings, it was the habit of the participants to leave their phones on a table in a high security room outside the conference rooms (because nothing turns a friendly meeting into full-scale fisticuffs like a constantly buzzing BlackBerry). So a number of White House staffers thought nothing of parting with their phones for the meeting -- that is, until said meeting ended and the phones were nowhere to be found.
Since each and every now-phoneless person was a political pundit and therefore had a BlackBerry filled with numbers and messages from some really big names (and presumably also with the kind of dirt that would make J. Edgar Hoover raise an eyebrow), a full-on freakout ensued.
Then someone thought to check the security cameras, which showed crystal clear footage of Curiel entering the high security room, filling his bag with sweet, sweet American phones and waltzing away without a worry in the world. "Holy shit, they just give out piles of free phones at these meetings! I AM THE PHONE KING!"
The Secret Service sent teams of agents rushing to the airport, where the Mexican delegation was by then waiting for their flight back home. In true Hollywood fashion, the agents got to the airport in the nick of time, stopped the plane and confronted Curiel ...
... who gave them a little smile and said he had no idea what they were talking about.
Let that sink in for a moment. The man had blatantly stolen half a dozen phones from high ranking American officials on camera and his goddamn plane was stopped by the Secret Service. And he proceeds to give them a "Problem, officer?"
Of course, his tone somewhat changed when the agents actually showed him the security camera footage. Not for the better, mind you: He now maintained that the whole thing was accidental and he had just found the phones, thought they were lost and was going to give them to the driver of his car to bring back to management at the meeting place.
The agents considered pointing out that this really didn't explain why he denied taking them in the first place, or why he took them at all, or why he was taking them to freaking Mexico, but Curiel had already proceeded to the next stage of his plan: waving his diplomatic passport in front of them like the "Get Out of Jail Free" card that it is. In the end, the agents did get the phones back, but the diplomatically immune Curiel was free to fly home.
And while the Mexican government did eventually fire his ass and subject him to a legal slap on the wrist of some kind, the fact remains that a man who got an inch away from stealing a whole lot of phones full of extremely confidential information from the freaking U.S. government went about his merry way, presumably flipping the Secret Service the bird as he went.
Kidnapping a Man by Stuffing Him in a Diplomatic Bag
A diplomatic bag is, by law, any old item that is identified as such and capable of holding stuff, be it a bag, box, satchel or the crusty sock from under the diplomat's bed. The idea behind the concept is as simple as it is prone for misuse: Anything and everything inside a diplomatic bag is untouchable by law enforcement. Basically, we're talking diplomatic immunity for inanimate objects.
And while most countries use their bags for boring stuff like classified files, some countries have noticed their potential and gotten creative. You can basically commit any crime you want, as long as said crime can be crammed inside a container designated as a diplomatic bag.
Well, in 1984 Nigeria took issue with a former minister of theirs, Umaro Dikko, who had moved to England. Dikko was a bit of a troublemaker, speaking out against the current government and criticizing them at every turn. Not being content with pissing off just one country, he was also in the habit of lashing out at Israel.
So, Nigeria and Israel decided to team up to bring Dikko back to Nigeria and shut him up.
Operation "Let's kidnap the shit out of this guy" was a great success, with Dikko yanked off the streets of London, drugged and taken to the airport by the joint Nigerian-Israeli squad. But how to get him in the plane?
Ha, easy! They would place Dikko in a wooden crate, tag it as a diplomatic bag and haul him off to Nigeria. No one can do anything even if the guy wakes up and starts banging the lid, because diplomagic. Mission accomplished!
Only someone had forgotten to fill out the proper paperwork for diplomatic baggage. So when Dikko did come to and the crate started moving around, the officials decided to take a peek.
Customs got Dikko out, and the kidnappers were arrested for almost managing to pull off a Batman villain scheme.
150,000 Parking Tickets
While diplomatic immunity can get an embassy employee out of a swath of major crimes, many people forget that it also applies for smaller stuff. The diplomats themselves are well aware of this, and gleefully use it for fairly impressive everyday dickery.
Take parking tickets. As long as the drivers have diplomatic plates, they can double and triple park to their hearts' desire. And unlike the average citizenry, when the cars do inevitably get ticketed, the country in question can (and usually does) totally claim "official duty" and refuse to pay a goddamn cent.
And, boy, do they enjoy ramming their dicks through this little loophole. Between 1997 and 2002, foreign diplomats from consulates and the UN racked up more than 150,000 parking tickets. Not $150,000 worth -- 150,000 separate tickets.
Wait, what? How is that even possible? That's freaking 70 parking tickets a day! You'd have to accidentally park in a legal space more often than that. The unpaid fines are now over $17 million. And what's scary is that behind each of those tickets is a separate act of parking assholery -- double parking and blocking someone else in, or obstructing traffic, or just generally being a piece of vehicular cholesterol in the arteries of the city.
Oh, and those figures are from New York alone.
The biggest offender seems to be Russia, with their whopping 32,000 unpaid parking tickets, although Kuwait is doing its level best to keep up with an impressive average of 246 driving violations per diplomat. While most developed nations do try to pay them, most third world nations just don't care and don't even try.
Because of their countries' laissez faire attitude toward the occasional ticket or two hundred, many diplomats take shameless advantage by weaving violently in and out of traffic, speeding and just generally driving recklessly. Things have, in fact, gotten so bad that in Washington, D.C., the police actually warn drivers to avoid driving behind a car with diplomat plates.
The moral of the story: When you're a diplomat, Grand Theft Auto is a documentary -- except in the real world even the cops can't touch you.
A Diplomat Opens a Casino Right in the Consulate Building
In October 2006, Benny Kusni was heading up the Senegal Consulate in Singapore, where he served as an honorary consul -- meaning that while he runs the consulate, he doesn't actually live in the country himself and therefore doesn't enjoy diplomatic immunity. Remember this, so you can better feel superior to several people we're going to discuss in a minute.
One day, Consul Kusni had suddenly come up with a great idea to generate some revenue: He had a big ass building in Singapore, and no scruples whatsoever. Why not combine the two and open up a goddamn casino right inside the consulate building?
So that's what he did, and because apparently no Senegalese has any business in Singapore ever, the casino actually worked for an entire month. It was a huge success, too -- there were up to a hundred people playing there at any given time, and Kusni profited over half a million dollars ... every day.
Eventually, though, the police noticed the sudden increase of cocktail dresses and tuxedos flowing in and out of the building. Another thing they noticed was that unlike embassies, consulates are not considered foreign soil. So they raided the shit out of the place.
Kusni immediately declared diplomatic immunity and started packing, leaving the police to impotently shake their fists and yell "We'll get you yet!" at him.
Or that was his plan, anyway. Someone soon remembered what the deal with honorary consuls and immunities actually was, i.e., there is none, at which point everyone burst into a wide grin and slowly approached Kusni while rhythmically tapping their nightsticks on their palms in perfect unison.
Somehow, Kusni still found the gall to plead innocence ("What casino? Oh, this casino! Never noticed it before"), but got thrown in jail with a hefty bail of $40,000 on him. At which point the police found out that Kusni had also been committing immigration fraud by falsifying information on immigration papers throughout his tenure.
At which point Kusni paid the shit out of his bail and walked out whistling.
At which point, if their bland, heavily Wikipedia-borrowing website is any indication, Senegal just said "Fuck it" to all things regarding their Singapore consulate and pretended nothing had ever happened.
Yes, Even Murder
OK, so we mentioned Lethal Weapon 2 earlier, and no doubt some of you immediately were looking for examples of diplomats flat out committing murder and getting off due to their immunity. The answer is that yes, it has happened.
Take the Libyan embassy worker in London who, in April 1984, decided to open fire at a mob of anti-Gadhafi protesters outside his embassy, fatally wounding a police officer and injuring 10 others. The police laid siege to the embassy for 11 days, at which point the government stepped in, allowed the ambassador and his staff to leave the premises -- and promptly kicked them out of the country, with a nice long fuck you to take back to Gadhafi. The countries' diplomatic relations were torn apart, but no one was ever convicted of the shootings.
But the Abusing Diplomatic Immunity Cake goes to the batshit insane Burmese ambassador to Sri Lanka, who found out in 1979 that his wife was having an affair, so he shot her.
Then he built a fucking funeral pyre in his yard -- which was legally Burmese soil -- and burned his wife's body in full view of the press and the police, who were unable to do anything because of his immunity.
Not only was the man never convicted of the crime, but he actually remained the Burmese ambassador.
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