ICIJ investigations have long uncovered the illicit or harmful activities of international figures operating at the nexus of power, privilege, and secrecy. Over the years, a little known niche in the global elite has repeatedly surfaced in leaked documents and scattered news reports on wrongdoing and scandal around the world: a type of diplomat known as an honorary consul.
Honorary consuls are largely unregulated volunteer diplomats who work from their home countries to promote the interests of foreign governments — winning them some of the same protections and perks provided to career diplomats.
In the Shadow Diplomats investigation, ICIJ worked with ProPublica and 59 media partners to identify at least 500 current and former honorary consuls who have been accused of crimes or embroiled in controversy — exposing the global scale of misuse and exploitation by rogue honorary consuls.
Those alleged crimes include drug and weapons trafficking, murder, fraud, and terrorism financing. Some honoraries were caught exploiting their status for personal gain, abusing their positions to enrich themselves, evading law enforcement, advancing political agendas, or supporting authoritarian regimes.
“They can basically move stuff with impunity and no one is ever going to bust them — you flash your diplomatic passport, no questions asked,” says David Asher, a former adviser for the Department of Defense.
As ICIJ and media partners chronicled the abuses perpetrated by honorary consuls around the world, patterns started to emerge. The team identified accused operatives from the terrorist group Hezbollah who have had honorary consul status. Other consuls have been sanctioned by the United States and other governments, including members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
Today, we’re publishing our first installment of the Shadow Diplomats investigation, with more investigative stories by ICIJ, ProPublica, and 160 journalists in 46 countries to come in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned for more from the Shadow Diplomats investigation in the coming weeks! And please feel free to reply to this email with any questions you might have about honorary consuls.
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