Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Governments Call for Reforms to Centuries-Old Honorary Consul System

Authorities in four countries are pressing to correct breakdowns in a troubled system of global diplomacy that has elevated and protected accused terrorist financiers, violent criminals, sanctioned oligarchs and aides to some of the world’s most corrupt regimes. The “Shadow Diplomats” investigation, published by ProPublica, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 50 international media organizations, chronicled widespread exploitation by honorary consuls and the failure of governments to provide oversight. (https://www.propublica.org/article/honorary-consuls-shadow-diplomatic-immunity-reforms) Thousands of the volunteer diplomats are in place worldwide, working from their home countries to represent the interests of the foreign nations that appoint them. In exchange, under international treaty, consuls receive a coveted series of legal protections and privileges, which can include diplomatic credentials, special license plates and the ability to move consular bags across borders without inspection. The investigation found at least 500 current and former consuls who have been accused of crimes or embroiled in controversy — the majority while they held their posts. That includes scores of consuls who reportedly tried to use their status to advance illicit activity or evade law enforcement. Germany and Austria have already dismissed an honorary consul in Brazil who had been criticized by a judge in 2015 for misusing her consular status in a controversial land deal. The consul and her family denied wrongdoing. In Switzerland, the honorary consul for Mongolia announced his resignation in October, one day after reporters asked government officials about his prior conviction for tax evasion. The consul declined to respond to a request for comment. The threat of shadow diplomacy has also alarmed experts in the United States. ProPublica and ICIJ identified nine current and former honorary consuls who have been linked to terrorist groups by law enforcement and governments. Most were tied to Hezbollah, the political party, social services provider and militant group in Lebanon designated by the United States and other countries as a terrorist organization.

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