Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: diplomatic immunity's greatest hits


Former IMF head joins an illustrious collection of miscreants who claimed the status to get out of trouble

In invoking diplomatic immunity, Dominique Strauss-Kahn joins
a rogues' gallery of accused international reprobates.
From petty thieves and fine-dodgers to drunk-drivers and outright murderers, "diplomatic immunity" has been the cry of a rogues' gallery of accused international miscreants plunged into hot water overseas.

Former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the latest to try to claim its protection in his bid to get a civil case brought by the New York hotel maid he is alleged to have assaulted struck out.

A look at the history of those claiming the status puts the one-time French presidential hope in a league with some rum fellows, red-faced diplomats and a Burmese ambassador who took immunity to a shocking extreme, or so the story goes.

Mexico: BlackBerry thief

In one of the more bizarre incidents of diplomatic immunity being claimed, a Mexican press attaché sought to evade the law after being caught with the BlackBerrys of several White House staffers.

The theft took place in 2008 during a bilateral get-together in New Orleans. After the devices had been placed on a table outside the meeting room, Rafael Quintero Curiel picked up a handful and headed to the exit.

He made it to the airport before authorities picked him up. After initially denying the theft, he owned up after being shown video footage of him being caught red-handed. Claiming immunity, he headed back to Mexico where he was promptly sacked.

Police officers try to revive PC Yvonne Fletcher after she was shot outside
the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 during an anti-Gaddafi protest.
Libyan officials say the suspect might not be extradited.
The murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 resulted in the UK cutting all diplomatic ties with Tripoli.

No one was prosecuted over her death, and embassy staff claimed diplomatic immunity before being deported.

The young police officer was shot during a demonstration against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, and the bullet was thought to have come from inside the building.

Last year, it was reported that prosecutors had named junior diplomat Abdulmagid Salah Ameri as a suspect. He would have to be stripped of any immunity if charges were to be brought.

Raymond Davis seen here being taken to a court in Lahore.
US senator John Kerry said he was hopeful that the case could be resolved.
Already shaky relations between Washington and Islamabad were dealt a further blow in January 2011 by the killing of two Pakistanis by CIA operative Raymond Davis.
The US citizen claimed the pair were trying to rob him at the time of the incident.

But despite claims of diplomatic immunity, Davis was initially jailed over charges of murder and illegal weapons possession.

He was eventually released after paying off the relatives of the dead men under a deal that the families said they were forced to accept.

Zaire: rent at the UN

Poverty-stricken Zaire attempted to avoid paying rent at the home of its UN mission by citing diplomatic immunity.

By early 1992, the African nation – known now as the Democratic Republic of Congo – owed $400,000 to a private landlord in Manhattan.

The issue made its way to the New York courts, which eventually ruled against the central African nation, ordering US marshals to seize the premises if the Zairians failed to pay up.

Traffic entering the London congestion charge area.
Penny-pinchers at the US embassy in London have deprived Londoners of more than £5.5m in congestion charges, and the figure continues to grow.

In a long-running dispute, the US claims the charge is a tax, and as such diplomats are not liable to pay it.

London mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson have both taken a dim view of the US's reluctance to pay up. In an exchange over the money owed, Johnson reportedly reminded President Barack Obama that British diplomats stump up for US bridge tolls, and as such their trans-Atlantic cousins should do likewise with the C-charge.

Burma: ambassador murders

But perhaps the most egregious use of diplomatic immunity goes to the former Burmese ambassador to Sri Lanka who reportedly murdered his wife before burning her body in his backyard – in full view of spectators and police.

The 1979 incident is recalled by Gerald Hensley, former vice dean of the diplomatic corps in Sri Lanka, who himself heard it secondhand from a Cuban counterpart.

"The story was she had started an affair with a band leader, and when she came back late one evening he shot her. The next morning he was out in Cinnamon Gardens, a suburb of Colombo, carrying logs for the fire," said Mr Hensley, who also served as New Zealand's high commissioner to Singapore as well as a posting in Washington, DC.

Neighbours recognised that the Burmese diplomat was making a funeral pyre and informed Sri Lankan police when he then dumped his wife's body on top.

"It caused quite a stink," Hensley said, adding: "The ambassador said it was Burmese territory and they couldn't enter. In the end he was removed by the Burmese government and nobody seems to know what happened to him."

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