Law Enforcement

Shadow Diplomats have posed a menace for many years. Governments regarded the opposite means.

The deal to repay the treasurer of Detroit was cast in a sales space at a strip membership named Bouzouki.

“You’re mainly paying all these different guys. … Try to be paying me,” town’s treasurer informed native enterprise proprietor Robert Shumake that day in 2007 throughout a dialog that Shumake would later recount to federal prosecutors.

Shumake, a self-described group organizer and philanthropist, agreed to make funds to a number of officers who ran town’s pension funds. The cash was used, amongst different issues, to cowl playing bills, airline tickets and a day cruise to the Bahamas.

In return, Shumake acquired a profitable reward: Detroit steered thousands and thousands of pension {dollars} to his funding firm and paid him $1.2 million in charges. Prosecutors would later say it was “the worst potential deal for the pension programs.”

A sequence of metropolis officers and businessmen have been convicted within the sweeping scandal, however Shumake struck a deal in alternate for his testimony in 2011 and prevented prosecution.

Quickly after, he landed one other lucky break. The southern African nation of Botswana nominated him as an honorary consul in the US, a diplomatic place that got here with authorized protections, journey advantages and political connections unavailable to most People.

The State Division authorised the appointment, granting Shumake entry into the privileged world of worldwide diplomacy. Honorary consuls, although not as outstanding as ambassadors and different profession diplomats, have for hundreds of years labored from their dwelling international locations to signify international nations.

The division didn’t reply to questions on what steps, if any, it took to assessment Shumake’s background. Had officers executed even a cursory web search, they’d have found that Shumake’s actual property dealer’s license was suspended in 2002 and that he settled a financial institution fraud case in 2008, agreeing to pay tons of of hundreds of {dollars}.

Shumake was amongst not less than 500 present and former honorary consuls in the US and around the globe who’ve been implicated in felony investigations or different controversies — together with scores named to their posts regardless of previous convictions or different purple flags, the Worldwide Consortium of Investigative Journalists and ProPublica disclosed in a sequence of tales this 12 months.

Experiences of exploitation, scandal and felony habits by the little-known volunteer diplomats have surfaced for years. However the overwhelming majority of governments have didn’t strengthen oversight or press to reform the worldwide legislation that protects hundreds of honorary consuls worldwide, a brand new assessment discovered.

All informed, the Shadow Diplomats investigation recognized felony or controversial consuls linked to not less than 168 governments, together with Russia, which has leveraged the system to put in dozens of pro-Kremlin advocates on international soil as a soft-power technique.

Within the wake of the reporting, Paraguay, Finland, Brazil and different international locations introduced investigations of consuls and the system that empowers them. In some instances, authorities officers acknowledged not figuring out what number of consuls that they had appointed or whether or not any had been convicted of crimes.

Specialists in worldwide diplomacy and nationwide safety say that extra governments should demand change, look at nominees earlier than they’re authorised and observe their actions as soon as they change into consuls.

ICIJ and ProPublica recognized greater than 150 present and former consuls accused or convicted of tax evasion, fraud, bribery, corruption or cash laundering. Practically 60 have been tied to drug or weapons offenses, not less than 20 others to violent crimes and 10 to environmental abuses. Thirty honorary consuls have been sanctioned by the US and different governments; 9 have been linked to terrorist teams by legislation enforcement and governments. As soon as accused, dozens of consuls have invoked their standing to keep away from prosecution, police inquiries or fines.

“Nobody is checking them out,” stated Bob Jarvis, a world legislation and constitutional legislation professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern College who first examined the honorary consul system within the Eighties. “What are we doing? Who’re these folks?”

The USA doesn’t appoint its personal honorary consuls abroad however has for many years allowed international international locations to nominate U.S. residents as consuls in America. An estimated 1,100 have been in place this 12 months.

The State Division, answerable for approving consul nominations, famous years in the past that the US was “not able” to conduct background checks or analyze the {qualifications} or suitability of nominees on U.S. soil and as a substitute entrusted international international locations to assessment credentials.

In contrast to another international locations, the US has no code of conduct for honorary consuls. The State Division beforehand fought an effort by Congress to assessment whether or not diplomatic pouches, shielded from searches below worldwide legislation, had been used to maneuver contraband. The division on the time stated the measure would impression U.S. diplomats abroad.

In 2020, the division reached out to international embassies with a easy request: an up to date checklist of their consuls in the US. The final time the division inquired was 5 years earlier, data present.

“You’re taking a look at a pretty big universe, so to have interaction in an in depth assessment for each nominee can be fairly troublesome,” Lawrence Dunham, former assistant chief of protocol on the State Division, stated in an interview.

The State Division didn’t reply to particular questions on its oversight of consuls. In an announcement, Cliff Seagroves, principal deputy director of the Workplace of Overseas Missions, stated the division works to “shield the U.S. public from abuse of diplomatic privileges and immunities. This oversight contains the accreditation of honorary consuls and their efficiency of official duties in the US. The Division has zero tolerance for proof of inappropriate exercise by any member of a international mission, together with honorary consuls.”

The division didn’t reply to questions concerning the appointment of Shumake.

Shumake didn’t reply to questions on his actions earlier than changing into consul. He has beforehand stated he cooperated with the federal government within the pension case; Detroit’s former treasurer was sentenced in 2015 to 11 years in jail.

Shumake has additionally stated he by no means sought to misrepresent his skilled background. He has denied wrongdoing within the financial institution fraud probe.

Outdoors the US, a small variety of governments confronted with scandals have adopted extra stringent protocols for appointing and accepting honorary consuls.

Three years in the past, the Canadian authorities launched a assessment after Syrian refugees in Montreal found newly authorised honorary consul Waseem Ramli in a purple Hummer fitted with a picture of the Syrian flag and an image of President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed tens of hundreds of civilians by means of airstrikes and chemical weapons.

“To us, that isn’t the Syrian flag. It represents horrors for us. It represents evil,” stated Farouq Habib, a Syrian father of two who was granted asylum in Canada. “It was surprising for me to see it on the streets of Canada. How can Canada undertake somebody … with none due diligence or vetting? It undermines the credibility of the system itself.”

The Canadian authorities dismissed Ramli earlier than his time period started and reported that consuls appointed by 15 international locations warranted nearer scrutiny.

Ramli couldn’t be reached for remark. On the time of his nomination, he stated he would signify Syrians no matter their political opinions.

“I would like some [information] on what occurred to let this one move,” a Canadian official wrote on the time, based on emails launched by the federal government. “The place did we ‘fail?’”

Shadow Diplomats have posed a menace for many years. Governments regarded the opposite means.
Illustration: Matt Rota / ProPublica / ICIJ

“The consideration system”

The honorary consul system was created with nice promise centuries in the past, when governments started to advertise their cultural and financial pursuits in international international locations by appointing outstanding personal residents to function liaisons from their dwelling international locations. Beneath worldwide legislation, when a international authorities nominates a consul, native governments should in flip approve the appointment.

Many consuls are diligent advocates, forging country-to-country alliances within the arts, business, science and academia whereas drawing far much less consideration than ambassadors and different profession diplomats.

However the perks of diplomacy have lengthy attracted some doubtful appointees. Honorary consuls obtain authorized immunity in issues involving their work. Their correspondence can’t be seized, and their places of work and consular luggage are shielded from searches. Their standing offers entry to leaders of politics and business.

Within the U.S., an honorary consul for Malaysia tried to make use of his diplomatic standing to get out of a $10 site visitors ticket in Portland, Oregon, taking a lawsuit to the state’s Court docket of Appeals in 1979 earlier than he misplaced, courtroom data present.

In Los Angeles within the Nineteen Nineties, honorary consul Latchezar “Fortunate” Christov conspired with legal professionals, a firefighter, a police officer and a rabbi, amongst others, to assist transfer tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars} for a Colombian drug cartel.

To keep away from undesirable consideration, Christov deliberate to choose up drug cash in a automotive with a diplomatic license plate, data present. He additionally held money in his workplace on Wilshire Boulevard, the place the signal over the door learn: Consul Bulgaria.

Christov, whose exploits have been later described in a report back to Congress, pleaded responsible to laundering drug cash. He died in 2015.

In 2005, an honorary consul representing the Czech Republic in Michigan and Ohio tried to keep away from paying property taxes on a 16,000-square-foot dwelling close to Detroit with a six-car storage and elevator. He argued the property had been transferred to the Czech authorities.

“Does the embassy pay property taxes? After all not! Does the consulate in New York pay property taxes? After all not!” Thomas Prose was quoted as saying on the time.  Native officers denied a tax exemption, and Prose resigned as honorary consul. Prose couldn’t be reached for remark; he beforehand stated he paid the taxes “out of goodwill.”

Former honorary consul Jill Kelley leaves her dwelling in Tampa, Florida in 2012. Picture: Tim Boyles/Getty Pictures

One of many extra high-profile honorary consuls in the US was Jill Kelley, who gained notoriety in 2012 for triggering an FBI investigation that finally uncovered an extramarital affair between then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus and his biographer.

Throughout the media protection, Kelley reportedly known as 911 to complain about trespassers. “I’m an honorary consul common … in order that they shouldn’t be capable of cross my property,” she stated.

Kelley, appointed consul by South Korea, misplaced her consul put up that 12 months. On the time, a New York businessman stated she had sought thousands and thousands of {dollars} to assist him win a gasoline contract in South Korea.

“It’s not appropriate to the standing of honorary consul that (she) sought to be concerned in industrial initiatives and peddle affect,” South Korea’s deputy international minister informed the Seoul-based information company Yonhap.

Kelley denied wrongdoing, telling ICIJ and ProPublica that she didn’t monetize her function as honorary consul. “I by no means made a greenback or capitalized from my work,” she stated.

In response to questions, Kelley shared a replica of a 2013 civil lawsuit that she and her husband filed in opposition to the U.S. authorities, alleging their privateness was violated by the disclosure of “private, personal and confidential data” in the course of the Petraeus scandal. The lack of her consulship disadvantaged Kelley of “years of great public service, social and monetary alternatives,” based on the lawsuit, which she later dropped. Kelley declined to elaborate.

Lately, greater than 100 international locations, together with Russia, Guatemala, Liberia and Malta, have had consuls in the US, State Division data present. France had probably the most: 53 as of March.

The State Division has a number of necessities, together with {that a} consul is 21 or older, a U.S. citizen or everlasting resident and holds no authorities place with duties that would battle with the put up.

A State Division memo to international embassies in 2003 famous that the U.S. authorities “trusts” international international locations to fully assessment the credentials of nominees. As soon as consuls are in place, the memo stated, they’d stay accountable to the governments they signify, based on the memo.

“It’s on the consideration system,” Dunham stated.

He added that the US can all the time refuse to simply accept honorary consul nominees or, later, take away them from their posts.

Efforts to strengthen oversight of diplomatic privilege over time have been sporadic. Within the Eighties, the State Division enacted a one-year moratorium on the appointments of latest honorary consuls in response to considerations from Congress concerning the variety of folks within the U.S. with diplomatic safety.

Across the identical time, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers sought to assessment whether or not diplomats have been exploiting protections that allowed them to obtain luggage, bins and containers in the US with out inspection. Beneath worldwide legislation, diplomatic pouches are shielded from scrutiny, even by X-ray.

The measure would have required the federal government to undertake safeguards to make sure luggage weren’t used to smuggle medicine, explosives, weapons or some other supplies used to advance terrorism.

“We’re involved that terrorists might, and we’ve each cause to imagine, have shipped below the safety of diplomatic immunity pouches carrying such gadgets as small armed weapons and explosives for use in opposition to legislation enforcement officers,” Dennis Martin, then-president of the American Federation of Police, testified at a congressional listening to.

The State Division opposed the measure, arguing that the US was the biggest sender of diplomatic pouches. “The beneficiary of diplomatic immunity essentially is the US authorities as a result of our personnel overseas couldn’t perform with out it,” the division’s head of protocol stated.

The measure died in Congress.

Final 12 months, the division requested that states cease issuing particular license plates to honorary consuls, saying they “might indicate privileges and immunities to which honorary consular officers will not be entitled.”

Some states, nevertheless, are nonetheless issuing the plates, together with Oregon, Arizona and Georgia, ICIJ and ProPublica discovered. Texas has issued or renewed greater than 3,900 plates to honorary consuls since 1994, data present.

One monetary crime professional pointed to a different vulnerability.

Some international governments have chosen to categorise honorary consuls as “politically uncovered individuals” who current the next threat of economic crime and are extra intently scrutinized by monetary establishments.

It’s an effective way to run soiled cash as a result of honorary consuls are sometimes not tagged as greater threat in a monitoring system and so they get the advantage of not being subjected to legislation enforcement searches. — former banking compliance govt Sarah Beth Felix

The USA has not executed so, leaving that dedication to monetary establishments.

“An honorary consul can be utilized very like a gatekeeper,” stated Sarah Beth Felix, a former banking compliance govt. “It’s an effective way to run soiled cash as a result of honorary consuls are sometimes not tagged as greater threat in a monitoring system and so they get the advantage of not being subjected to legislation enforcement searches.”

The Treasury Division stated that U.S. laws don’t outline politically uncovered individuals. “Whether or not honorary consuls are PEPs will depend on the details and circumstances surrounding the consul’s appointment and function,” stated Jayna Desai, spokesperson for the division’s Monetary Crimes Enforcement Community.

Illustration: Matt Rota / ProPublica / ICIJ

Worldwide warning indicators

For years, authorities investigations around the globe have chronicled lawlessness and abuse amongst consuls that seem to eclipse incidents in the US.

Twenty-five years in the past, Bolivia introduced a assessment of the honorary consul system there after high-profile scandals, together with one during which the nation’s consul in Haiti was dismissed after police reportedly discovered an arsenal of weapons contained in the consul’s dwelling, together with rifles, pistols and a grenade launcher. Authorities suspected that the consul was linked to paramilitary teams combating in opposition to the Haitian authorities, native media reported.

“It’s effectively price reviewing fully this outdated customized of honorary consuls,” native newspaper La Razón wrote after the arrest in an editorial titled “The Persistent Drawback of Honorary Consuls.”

“It’s a thousand occasions preferable to not have anybody to signify us in a nation than to undergo undignified conditions,” the newspaper wrote.

In 2003, Hungary overhauled its system after a stockbroker wished for fraud and embezzlement fled the nation in an honorary consul’s Mercedes. The stockbroker additionally held an ID card from one other honorary consulate, based on media studies.

After the incident, the Hungarian authorities introduced a assessment of the honorary consul system and stopped issuing identification playing cards to workers of honorary consulates. The stockbroker was convicted and jailed for 5 years; the consuls weren’t charged.

In 2007, Liberia dismissed almost all of its consuls abroad after studies from Europe, Asia and the Center East of drug smugglers and cash launderers holding honorary consul passports, based on a U.S. State Division cable on the time.

In 2019, Canada turned one of many largest governments to assessment the system, initiating the probe after studies about Ramli, nominated by Syria, surfaced in Montreal.

“I cried on the time. How come this individual was appointed?” stated Muzna Dureid, a Syrian refugee. “Even in Canada, we don’t really feel secure.”

The federal government investigation discovered that “time constraints and lack of expertise administration experience” restricted an preliminary assessment of Ramli, who went on to say in an interview with Maclean’s journal {that a} outstanding Syrian volunteer rescue group was a “terrorist group.”

Canada launched a brand new course of to look at and appoint honorary consuls, including a code of conduct.

Supplies launched by the Canadian authorities present Waseem Ramli’s Hummer and social media posts.

A household of consuls

Regardless of the findings by governments, most international locations haven’t known as for widespread reforms. That features Spain, the place authorities are at the moment investigating three honorary consuls accused of serving to to launder cash for Simón Montero Jodorovich, an accused drug seller.

In a 2,000-page report, police wrote in 2019 that the consuls representing Mali, Croatia and Albania allegedly known as Jodorovich “massive boss.”

Honorary consuls, the police reported, work with out pay for the international locations they signify. “What’s obtained,” police wrote, “is compensation by way of status, privileges and social relations, to not point out the coveted diplomatic bag … that crosses borders with none management.”

The consuls, who haven’t been criminally charged, have denied wrongdoing. An legal professional for Jodorovich stated his shopper is harmless and “has by no means manipulated any consul,” including that Jodorovich’s relationship with them was transactional.

In Central America, the federal government of Honduras has beforehand reviewed its honorary consuls abroad, however consuls throughout the nation have acquired much less consideration.

The highly effective Kafie household has counted eight honorary consuls amongst its members, representing an eclectic group of nations that embrace Finland, Latvia and Panama.

In 2015, Schucry Kafie, a outstanding businessman who has served for years as honorary consul for Jordan, was arrested in a Honduran corruption scandal, accused with others of overcharging the federal government for medical provides.

Others implicated within the scandal have been detained, however Kafie was launched by a decide, who famous that his standing as consul required him to generally go away the nation, courtroom data present.

The costs in opposition to Kafie have been finally dismissed.

In a written assertion, Kafie stated that the federal government’s case was politically motivated and that the corporate didn’t overcharge for tools. He added that the courtroom allowed him to go away the nation for well being causes and never due to his job as honorary consul.

In Panama, the Kafie household has an influence plant that has for years drawn complaints from close by residents, who say they worry it emits poisonous gasoline.

Martin Ibáñez, 66, stated his pores and skin itches and his eyes burn from the smoke. He has written to the Panamanian authorities and others, hoping somebody will decide whether or not the plant is working safely.

“It’s like they dropped an atomic bomb,” he stated this 12 months. “I’ll die considered one of as of late, however I need to go down combating.”

Kafie stated the plant didn’t trigger well being issues.

Martin Ibáñez, who lives on a farm close to the Kafie household’s energy plant in Panama, stated he believes that gasses from the plant have made members of his group sick. Picture: Linus Hoeller / Medill Investigative Lab and Matthew Orr / ProPublica

“Hurt and abuse”

In 2020, the United Nations Institute for Coaching and Analysis supplied a course for honorary consuls that explored diplomatic legislation and ethics.

“With no robust governance and reporting course of, honorary consuls can change into remoted and distant and their actions will be opposite to the pursuits of the sending state,” the institute famous on the time.

The course was supplied solely as soon as. An institute official informed ICIJ and ProPublica that there have been not sufficient individuals.

Diplomatic legislation consultants stated governments ought to require coaching and likewise make public the names and areas of honorary consuls. Of greater than 180 international locations that appoint and obtain honorary consuls, solely 42 publish up-to-date data, together with names of consuls. Dozens of nations report no data in any respect, ICIJ and ProPublica discovered. Governments might additionally introduce an honorary consul code of conduct, consider the data of these at the moment holding the posts and begin investigating new nominees, consultants stated.

“The hurt and abuse,” stated Jarvis, the legislation professor from Florida, “far outweighs no matter profit the system is offering.”

In Michigan, Shumake’s honorary consul put up for Botswana resulted in 2015. He had additionally been appointed honorary consul by the federal government of Tanzania; that put up resulted in 2015 as effectively.

Whereas consul, he received a contract to construct a rail line in Tanzania in a deal that opponents criticized as improper and opaque. Shumake defended the mission; the rail line was by no means constructed.

The Botswana Ministry of Overseas Affairs informed ICIJ and ProPublica that Shumake’s tenure was terminated after the U.S. State Division disclosed that he had been accused of misconduct. The ministry didn’t elaborate. The federal government of Tanzania didn’t reply to requests for remark.

One 12 months after the consul posts ended, U.S. authorities seized greater than $250,000 in money on the Charlotte Douglas Worldwide Airport in North Carolina from considered one of Shumake’s associates. The cash was stashed in a carry-on bag, which later examined optimistic for traces of cocaine, based on paperwork from a subsequent civil forfeiture case.

The courier referred authorities to Shumake, who stated he had raised the cash to help communities in Africa and the Caribbean and that as “an envoy” of a world fee, he had diplomatic immunity in transporting it, based on courtroom paperwork. Authorities seized the money.

Shumake declined to answer detailed questions from ICIJ and ProPublica, however he stated the U.S. returned the cash. Court docket data present the federal government agreed to return half the cash to the worldwide fee.

In an unrelated case in 2017, Shumake pleaded responsible to misdemeanor violations in a Michigan courtroom after his mortgage auditing firm was accused of improperly taking charges from distressed owners.

“You preyed on folks at their lowest potential second,” a county decide informed Shumake at his sentencing listening to.

Final 12 months, the U.S. Securities and Change Fee alleged that Shumake and others had arrange a fraudulent crowdfunding scheme that promised buyers earnings from the hashish business. The SEC filed a lawsuit, which is ongoing. Shumake has denied wrongdoing.

A screenshot from a video posted this 12 months about former honorary consul Shumake

In Could, seven years after his honorary consul positions ended, he posted a video on-line titled “Robert Shumake Holds the Titles of Honorary Consul.” The video contains a picture of two males shaking arms — whereas exchanging wads of money.

Contributors: Jennifer Avila, Jesus Albalat, Robert Cribb, Atanas Tchobanov, Zsuzsanna Wirth, Delphine Reuter, Nicole Sadek, Michael Korsh, Hannah Feuer, Michelle Liu, Grace Wu, Linus Hoeller, Dhivya Sridar, Quinn Clark, Henry Roach, Evan Robinson-Johnson, Susanti Sarkar, Margaret Fleming, Julian Andreone, Sela Breen and Belinda Clarke

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