Skip to main content

Dodgy diplomacy

Corruption, like the global financial system, knows no boundaries. Illicit financial flows end up laundered into luxury goods and properties around the world, their ownership often hidden behind shell companies. The corrupt hop on a plane in one country, and enjoy their wealth in another. They also travel extensively to meet business partners and discuss secret deals. Often, for their businesses to survive and expand, corrupt people need to remain discreetly mobile.

That is why Transparency International is focussing on ways the corrupt both move illicit funds through the global financial system, travel to enjoy the proceeds and use this travel to engage in corruption.

Transparency International welcomes the United Kingdom’s recognition that corrupt money is coming unchecked into London to buy property and must be stopped. But we believe more can still be done to focus the spotlight on the individuals who are trying to take advantage of the system.

We are calling for governments to focus on two key areas:

  • denial of entry to suspected corrupt individuals, and
  • increased due diligence for issuing the tools of travel: passports, golden visas and diplomatic appointments, such as ambassadors and honorary consuls, which come with diplomatic immunity including little to no border controls when travelling on diplomatic passports or UN laissez-passers.

Transparency International wants tighter international regulations and inspections to monitor and stop criminals from using passports, golden visas and even diplomatic cover to facilitate corrupt business.

Rich pickings in paradise

Selling passports, golden visas and even enabling diplomatic appointments can be big business in some parts of the world. In small island states, for example, passport sales contribute significant amounts to government coffers.

A recent article in The Economist listed passport revenues for St Kitts & Nevis, Antiqua & Barbuda, Dominica and Grenada. In St Kitts, passports made up 13 per cent of gross domestic product in 2013.

Diplomatic postings are another income source. According to one of several websites offering to link clients with countries, money is the main issue. To get the process going you have to prove you have US$500,000 in your bank account.

But people are willing and Transparency International is concerned that there are not enough checks on the reasons why people seek these appointments.

For example, Le Matin Dimanche, a Swiss newspaper, reported on two businessmen who were appointed diplomats to United Nations offices in Geneva for Grenada and St Lucia respectively. The status was accorded by Swiss authorities in a process that appeared to be in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which outlines rules regarding diplomatic appointment as well as the privileges and the immunities given to diplomats.

The Convention also clearly states that diplomats should not practise commercial activity and that diplomatic status does not provide immunity from the civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state for such activity. It also gives receiving states the right to declare a diplomat persona non grata or that any member of the staff of the mission in not acceptable.

Transparency International calls for diligent enforcement of these provisions by states and international organisations.

Dishonoured consuls

There are no registers that list how many non-nationals are appointed ambassadors and honorary consuls for countries where they are not citizens. History shows, however, that strict due diligence is not always carried out.

For example, in October 2011, the then President of Zambia was forced to revoke the appointment of Nicole Buzaianu, a Swiss national, as ambassador to UNESCO, for alleged involvement in a gold scam.

Grenada came under fire in 2007 for appointing a convicted fraudster from the Bahamas and the US, Eric Reinsteiner, as an ambassador.

Switzerland also fought the appointment of Romain Luschkin, a Russian, as Dominca’s representative to the World Trade Organisation. On the other hand, France has not spoken up about Gilbert Chagoury, who is St Lucia’s representative at UNESCO and has recently been criticised for allegedly buying his position.

Unmask the Corrupt

As part of our Unmask the Corrupt campaign, Transparency International is calling for an international agreement on the criteria for issuing and publicising denial of entry notices. This will make it easier for countries to track who is on which persona non grata list.

Transparency International is asking the Group of 20 biggest economies to define criteria that countries could use to ban corrupt individuals from travelling. Civil society can work with law-enforcement and government officials to develop these criteria.

When foreign ministries issue visa bans, they know that their decision is not always respected by international organisations, notably UN agencies. However, these agencies seem to argue that multilateral diplomacy needs to maintain dialogue with representatives of all states and can therefore reserve the right to issue facilities similar to laissez-passers under the provisions of Article VII of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

Editor's note: On 31 July 2015 we amended the article to clarify certain details.

For any press inquiries please contact press@transparency.org