The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ProPublica and other media organizations recently launched Shadow Diplomats, a first-of-its-kind investigation into honorary consuls, an understudied role in international diplomacy.
These part-time volunteer envoys serve in the thousands around the world and enjoy privileges and protections similar to those of career diplomats.
But the shadow diplomats’ investigations show that honorary consuls largely operate under the radar, with little oversight or regulation. ICIJ, ProPublica and global media partners identified at least 500 current and former Honorary Consuls accused of crimes or involved in controversies. In some cases, reporters found, governments were unaware that consuls they appointed or recognized had been suspected or convicted of criminal activity.
Here is a selection of shadow diplomats reporting from ICIJ’s media partners around the world.
The vast majority of honorary consuls appointed by the tiny tax haven abroad are from the financial services sector, revealed Reporter.lu, which examined more than 160 honorary consuls.
Among them is a banker who works as an honorary consul in a German city and is currently being investigated by prosecutors for his alleged involvement in a major bank fraud, according to Reporter.lu. In another case, police in another German city last year raided the office of another Luxembourg consul for alleged violations of environmental and labor laws. Another honorary consul had fought a legal battle in the Bahamas for years before retiring as consul “due to ill health” and settling the case, journalists found.
“Should an honorary consul be convicted of a serious offense in court, this would result in his mandate being revoked,” said the Luxembourg Foreign Ministry, which only learned about the criminal investigation, the police investigation and the court case after questions from reporters.
In Finland, reporters from YL revealed that the government was unaware of criminal cases and convictions of honorary consuls in the Nordic country.
Finnish reporters compared names of the country’s honorary consuls with court records and identified seven convictions and two ongoing court cases. The discoveries ranged from one consul convicted of aggravated tax fraud and bribery to another given a suspended sentence for involvement in a road accident that killed a passenger.
The track record of honorary consuls in the country surprised Finnish authorities, YLE reported.
Burkina Faso and Canada
In Burkina Faso, journalists highlighted a legal battle that experts and observers say highlights the risks of honorary consuls combining diplomacy with private gain.
In Canada, a Quebec-based attorney is currently suing a former business partner for more than $100,000, alleging that the attorney expended significant resources to be appointed Honorary Consul of Burkina Faso. The lawyer said he hoped his partner’s appointment as honorary consul would help them obtain mining licenses in the African country, according to records from ICIJ partner Radio Canada.
Radio Canada also published an investigation into the case, in which it interviewed academic experts and other Honorary Consuls in Canada who believe that paying Honorary Consul posts is contrary to best practice.
“Normally … honorary consuls work in a spirit of goodwill and in the interests of foreign policy, although some prefer to prioritize their own business,” said Canadian diplomat Francois LeDuc, an expert witness in the court case.
ABC Color reporters revealed critical information gaps about who is serving as Honorary Consul for the South American country.
Paraguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists 63 honorary consuls appointed by the South American country around the world. However, reporters identified nine other consuls, including those in Argentina, Greece and Syria.
Honorary consuls for Paraguay have a long history of criminal behavior, according to ABC Color, which highlighted a case of the so-called “beautiful consul” being investigated for fraud and tax evasion. Another honorary consul appointed by Paraguay in Hong Kong was under investigation for bribery, ABC Color reported.
In Croatia, reporters from Ostro revealed how the country’s honorary consul in Barcelona, Spain, has been under investigation by police for years as part of a wide-ranging money laundering investigation. According to a police report, police monitored the consul’s car and consulate and suspected that the consul had helped launder money for a well-known Barcelona family suspected of drug trafficking.
The main subject of the investigation, Simón Montero Jodorovich, loaned the Croatian honorary consul money “in exchange for favors … taking advantage of the contacts the position offered [the consul] remains in the political and social landscape,” says the police report.
Jodorovich and the Honorary Consul have both denied wrongdoing, with the Consul adding in a statement to Ostro that he had no business relationship with Jodorovich. The consul said he had previously informed the Croatian government that he would step down as consul in December.
A spokesman for the Croatian President told reporters that the status of Honorary Consul was “under consideration”.