Hundreds of honorary consuls are involved in criminal cases and scandals, as international research shows. Arms dealers, sex offenders and even murderers are among the honorary diplomats – and their diplomatic privileges make prosecutions difficult.

According to international media research, hundreds of so-called shadow diplomats such as honorary consuls have been involved in criminal or at least problematic activities worldwide. According to “Spiegel”, the research was initiated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the US research platform ProPublica.

Almost 60 media in 46 countries took part in the “Shadow Diplomats” project, including several German media. Collectively, more than 500 current or former Honorary Consuls have been identified as being involved in criminal cases, scandals or regulatory investigations, including convicted drug and arms dealers, sex offenders and even murderers, the reports said Monday.

A former honorary consul of Italy in Egypt is said to have tried to take valuable art objects such as mummy masks out of the country and was sentenced – in absentia – to 15 years in prison. According to the report, the main problem is that the honorary diplomats enjoy considerable privileges. And according to the research, they have been abused on a large scale for years.

But only very few misconducts by honorary consuls reach the public. At least 30 men and women have been sanctioned by the US, EU and other countries in recent years. Since 2020 alone, the federal government has sent five so-called verbal notes to inform other countries about criminal investigations against their honorary consuls.

Germany has about 350 German honorary consuls abroad – even those have come into conflict with the law. Tania Kramm da Costa, the former German and Austrian honorary consul in Brazil, has been involved in dubious business dealings in recent years and was therefore even on trial, reports “Spiegel”.

The dispute involved a 33,000 hectare property in the state of Mato Grosso. She was accused in court of having notarized powers of attorney as honorary consul that revealed “serious inconsistencies.” In the documents, two women allegedly ceded rights to the property to a man who was not only Kramm da Costa’s predecessor as honorary consul, but also her Father. His daughter, the honorary consul, certified that the powers of attorney had been signed in her presence – which was demonstrably false. The honorary consul Kramm da Costa has since been dismissed by the Federal Foreign Office for abuse of office. A very rare step: In the past ten years only three German honorary consuls were recalled.

The office of honorary consul was introduced in the 19th century. Today it mainly helps countries that cannot afford to send full-time diplomats abroad. In Western countries, people with long professional experience in business or politics often perform this honorary function. They often look after tourists and emigrants as a part-time job. Their duties include issuing passports and notarizing documents. Germany is also represented abroad by many honorary consuls – often in smaller towns or regions where there are no embassies or consulates.