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 under-examined role in international diplomacy.
These volunteer, part-time envoys operate in the thousands around the world and receive privileges and protections similar to those of career diplomats.
Yet the Shadow Diplomats investigation reveals that honorary consuls largely operate under the radar, receiving little oversight or regulation. ICIJ, ProPublica and global media partners identified at least 500 current and former honorary consuls who have been accused of crimes or embroiled in controversy. In some cases, reporters found, governments were unaware that consuls appointed or approved by them had been suspected or convicted of criminal activity.
Here’s a selection of Shadow Diplomats reporting from ICIJ’s media partners around the world.
The vast majority of honorary consuls appointed overseas by the tiny tax haven are drawn from the financial services sector, Reporter.lu revealed, which probed more than 160 honorary consuls.
They include a banker who serves as honorary consul in a German city and is currently under investigation by prosecutors for his alleged role in a major banking fraud, according to Reporter.lu. In a separate case, police in another German city last year searched the office of another consul of Luxembourg for allegedly violating environmental and labor laws. Another honorary consul had fought a lawsuit in the Bahamas for years before he retired as a consul “for health reasons” and settled the case, journalists found.
“Should an honorary consul be convicted of a serious offense in court, this would lead to his mandate being revoked,” said Luxembourg’s foreign ministry, which acknowledged learning about the criminal probe, police investigation and lawsuit only after questions from reporters.
In Finland, reporters at YL revealed that the government was unaware of criminal cases and convictions of honorary consuls in the Nordic country.
Finnish reporters matched names of honorary consuls in the country with court records, identifying seven convictions and two ongoing court cases. Discoveries ranged from consuls convicted of aggravated tax fraud and bribery to another who received a suspended prison sentence for involvement in a traffic accident that killed a passenger.
The track records of honorary consuls in the country surprised Finnish authorities, YLE reported.
Burkina Faso and Canada
In Burkina Faso, journalists highlighted a legal dispute that experts and observers said 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 spent significant resources on obtaining an honorary consul appointment from Burkina Faso. The attorney said that he hoped the honorary consul appointment for his partner would help them obtain mining licenses in the African country, according to records obtained by ICIJ partner Radio Canada.
Radio Canada also published an investigation into the case, interviewing academic experts and other honorary consuls in Canada who believe that paying for honorary consul positions is contrary to best practice.
“Usually … honorary consuls work in a spirit of benevolence and in the interest of foreign affairs, although some do prefer to favor their own business dealings,” said Canadian diplomat Francois LeDuc, an expert witness in the lawsuit.
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Reporters at ABC Color revealed critical information gaps about who serves as an honorary consul for the South American country.
Paraguay’s foreign ministry lists 63 honorary consuls appointed by the South American country around the world. Yet reporters identified an additional nine 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” who was investigated for fraud and tax evasion. Another honorary consul appointed by Paraguay in Hong Kong was investigated for bribery, ABC Color reported.
In Croatia, reporters at Ostro revealed how the country’s honorary consul to Barcelona, Spain, has been under investigation by police for years as part of a wide-ranging money laundering probe. Police monitored the consul’s car and consulate, according to a police report, and suspected that the consul had helped launder money for a well-known Barcelona family suspected of trafficking drugs.
The main subject of the investigation, Simón Montero Jodorovich, lent the honorary consul of Croatia money “in exchange for favors … taking advantage of the contacts offered by the position [the consul] holds within the political and social landscape,” according to the police report.
Jodorovich and the honorary consul have denied wrongdoing, with the consul adding in a statement to Ostro that he has no business relationship with Jodorovich. The consul said he previously informed the Croatian government that he would retire as consul in December.
Responding to reporters, a spokesperson for the Croatian president said the honorary consul’s status is “under consideration.”