Bad apples in the diplomatic corps

Bad apples in the diplomatic corps
Khobragade: Was in trouble over a domestic helper.

PETALING JAYA - They steal, refuse to pay parking fines and taxes, drink and drive and, worse, sometimes commit murder but never spend a day behind bars.

These rogue diplomats have been waving diplomatic immunity in the face of law enforcement authorities like get-out-of-jail-free cards for decades.

One of the most heinous examples of misuse of the diplomatic tag under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was by a Burmese ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1979 who murdered his wife and burned her body in full view of neighbours and the police.

The incident was told by Gerald Hensley, a former vice-dean of the diplomatic corps in Sri Lanka, in his memoirs.

He said the ambassador shot his wife dead at their house in Colombo for having an affair.

Neighbours who saw him preparing a funeral pyre in his backyard called the police but the ambassador told them that they could not enter his house because it was Burmese territory.

"He then carried her body out and dumped it into the fire," Hensley said, adding that while the ambassador, who remains unidentified, was later removed from his position, no one knows what happened to him.

Another case was of an inebriated Romanian diplomat, Dr Silviu Ionescu, 49, who beat traffic lights and knocked down three men along Bukit Panjang Road in Singapore in 2009. One of the victims was Malaysian Tong Kok Wai, 30, who died three days later.

Ionescu, the man behind the wheel of his embassy's Audi A6, later claimed that the car had been stolen. He fled to his home in Romania three days later.

Despite calls by the Singapore authorities for him to return to assist in the investigations, he refused and further claimed that he had been set up by the Singapore government.

However, the law did eventually catch up with Ionescu when a Romanian court sentenced him to three years' jail last year for manslaughter in the Singapore incident. The sentence was later doubled to six years.

In April 2012, Panamanian diplomat Erick Bairnals Shcks was arrested for raping a 19-year-old Filipina in Manila but was released from detention when he claimed diplomatic immunity.

In a more bizarre case of diplomatic immunity being abused, a Mexican delegate stole the BlackBerry phones of several White House officials in 2008 during a bilateral meeting in New Orleans.

The delegate was nabbed by Secret Service personnel just as he was about to board a plane to Mexico. Although he handed over the smartphones after initially denying he stole them, he got off scot-free.

In a hotly disputed case, India's former consul-general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was charged with visa fraud and making false statements about a domestic helper that she employed.

Prosecutors accused her of forcing Sangeeta Richard, who acted as a housekeeper and nanny for the Khobragade family, to work 100-hour weeks for the equivalent of US$1 (RM3.20) an hour. The federal minimum wage is US$7.25 (RM23.20) an hour in the United States.

Her arrest and strip search sparked a bitter diplomatic row with New Delhi removing security barriers near the US embassy and revoking diplomats' ID cards.

Charges against her were later dropped but in March this year, she was indicted on the same charges again and prosecutors said she would be arrested if she returned to the United States.

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