ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.
A first-of-its-kind global investigation by ProPublica and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists identified at least 500 current and former honorary consuls who have been accused of crimes or embroiled in controversy, including those convicted of serious offenses or caught exploiting their status for personal gain. The problem dates back decades, yet few governments have publicly called for reforms to the largely unregulated system of international diplomacy.
Here are snapshots of prominent honorary consuls whose personal, business or diplomatic activities have drawn scrutiny, in some cases from the highest levels of government.
APPOINTED BY LIBERIA
TO SERVE IN BRAZIL
Lebanon-born Ali Koleilat, described as a “businessman” in United Nations sanctions lists, served as Liberia’s honorary consul in Brazil. It’s not clear when he started or left his diplomatic post; a European media outlet in 2003 identified him as a consul.
In 2004, the U.N. Security Council sanctioned Koleilat, accusing him of delivering weapons to Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor before his resignation in 2003. Koleilat was also sanctioned by the European Union and the United States. He was arrested in Belgium in 2014, accused of conspiring to transport cocaine on a plane registered in the United States. Belgian media reported that Koleilat claimed the protection of diplomatic status. He was extradited to the U.S. after intelligence officers discovered that Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militant group, planned to secure his release by threatening Belgian prosecutors and others involved in the case, according to interviews and reports. Koleilat pleaded guilty to drug charges this year and was sentenced to time served.
Through his attorney, Koleilat declined to comment. The U.N. sanctions were lifted in 2009 and the European sanctions about a month later. The U.S. sanctions were lifted in 2015.
APPOINTED BY SOUTH SUDAN
TO SERVE IN LEBANON
Ali Myree is a Lebanese hotel operator and a prominent businessman with interests in South Sudan.
While living in Paraguay in 2000, Myree was arrested and charged with selling millions of dollars in counterfeit software. Authorities suspected that he was funneling the proceeds to Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militant group, according to media reports and The Sentry, a Washington, D.C.-based group that investigates the financing of armed conflict. Myree left Paraguay. In South Sudan, he established business ties with the ruling elite. In 2020, Myree became South Sudan’s honorary consul in Lebanon.
In a statement, Myree denied ever having a relationship with any terrorist organization. He said that piracy was common in Paraguay at the time of his arrest and that he “lacked guidance, education, legal exposure and experience.” He added, “I am proud of the son, husband, father, businessman and honorary consul I am today.”
APPOINTED BY GUINEA
TO SERVE IN LEBANON
Ali Saade, a prominent businessman in Guinea, founded Sonit Group, a frozen-fish company that has entered the coffee and cacao industries. Saade, whose family is from Lebanon, was appointed honorary consul there by Guinea. He divides his time between the two countries.
In March, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Saade and another prominent businessman, Ibrahim Taher, alleging that they operate in Guinea as key financiers of Hezbollah, a political party and militant group that the U.S. and other countries have designated a terrorist organization. Saade helped initiate money transfers from Guinea to Hezbollah, the Treasury Department said. Taher is also an honorary consul, according to the department, and used his status “to travel in and out of Guinea with minimal scrutiny.”
In an interview, Saade said he acted honorably as consul and denied financing Hezbollah. Saade said he is not serving as honorary consul while the Guinea government investigates the U.S. allegations. Taher did not respond to requests for comment. He has previously denied accusations by the U.S. government and said he is not an honorary consul.
APPOINTED BY LEBANON
TO SERVE IN ANGOLA
Aziz Ibrahim Nassour, born in Sierra Leone, comes from a family of diamond merchants. In the mid-1990s, Nassour served as Lebanon’s honorary consul in Angola, where he reportedly imported food during the country’s civil war.
A Belgian intelligence report in 2000 said that Nassour and his family-owned company had been tied to the financing of Middle Eastern terrorist organizations through the sale of illegal African diamonds. Nassour was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council in 2004. He was convicted in Belgium that year of trafficking in blood diamonds.
Nassour did not respond to requests for comment but has previously denied any ties to radical Islamic organizations and involvement in any criminal activity. The U.N. lifted sanctions in 2015. The company, which could not be reached for comment, has previously denied wrongdoing.
APPOINTED BY RUSSIA
TO SERVE IN MONTENEGRO
Boro Djukic served as Russia’s honorary consul in Montenegro, occupying the inaugural post from 2014 to 2018. He was previously Ukraine’s honorary consul in Montenegro.
Djukic, a former Montenegrin bureaucrat, helped found in 2017 a populist political party opposed to the country’s bid for NATO membership. The Montenegrin government later withdrew its consent for Djukic’s honorary consul appointment. In 2020, the country’s chief prosecutor said Djukic was under investigation for attempting to import forged Russian police badges into Montenegro. Djukic subsequently went to Russia, according to news reports.
Djukic did not respond to requests for comment. He has previously said, “I am not a Russian citizen, but as a person who loves Russia, I represented it in the best possible way.” Djukic has also said the police badges were made in Serbia and were cheaper than those in Russia. He said that the badges were taken from him because of “increased control.” ProPublica and ICIJ could not determine the status of that investigation.
APPOINTED BY CANADA
TO SERVE IN GUINEA
Canadian businessman Jean Laprade was a director of a gold mining company in Guinea. He served as Canada’s honorary consul in Guinea from 2006 to 2015.
Authorities in Guinea say Laprade, while serving as an honorary consul in 2015, raped a 12-year-old girl at his consular residence. Believing that Laprade was a consul general — a position with more diplomatic privileges than honorary consul — authorities did not arrest him, enabling him to leave Guinea for Canada, according to reporting by Africaguinee. In 2017, Laprade was convicted in absentia in Guinea and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Laprade did not respond to requests for comment. He has previously denied wrongdoing.
José Luis López Fernández
APPOINTED BY MALI
TO SERVE IN SPAIN
José Luis López Fernández served as Mali’s honorary consul in Barcelona, Spain, for about eight years. His position ended this year.
As part of a wider drug trafficking probe, Spanish authorities are currently investigating López Fernández and two other honorary consuls suspected of money laundering. In a report, investigators complained that consuls act “completely autonomously and are not controlled by the State they represent.” No charges have been filed against López Fernández.
An attorney for López Fernández said his client is innocent and only tangentially involved in the wider investigation. “My client is a prestigious businessman and has presented in court all the supporting documents of the legality of his investments,” the attorney said, adding that police had misunderstood the privileges and activities of honorary consuls in Spain. “He is not a public figure but an honest businessman whose integrity and innocence have been unfairly questioned,” the attorney said.
APPOINTED BY EL SALVADOR
TO SERVE IN SWITZERLAND
Karl Burkhardt, a Swiss financier, was an honorary consul in Switzerland from 1993 to 1996.
Burkhardt was arrested in 1996 after he accepted a suitcase with $2 million from an undercover U.S. agent posing as a drug dealer. According to the criminal complaint, Burkhardt had promised to launder the money and had provided the agent a phone number for a consulate in Switzerland. “Burkhardt told me that the telephone line could be used safely,” the agent recalled in court records. “He said that it was a consulate telephone line so even if someone is listening, the information could not be used.” Burkhardt pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced in 1997 to prison.
Burkhardt could not be reached for comment. At his 1997 sentencing hearing, he said, “I made a big mistake last year and I regret that I did it.”
Ladislav Otakar Skakal
APPOINTED BY ITALY
TO SERVE IN EGYPT
Ladislav Otakar Skakal served as Italy’s honorary consul in Egypt until 2014. He also worked as a boat manager for a tourism company in Luxor, according to local media.
Though no longer an honorary consul, Skakal in 2017 sent more than 21,000 Egyptian antiquities, including coins, pots and a wooden coffin, in a diplomatic container to the Italian port city of Salerno, according to court records. Italian authorities searched the container and discovered the relics only after a paperwork mistake. In 2020, Egyptian authorities sentenced Skakal in absentia to 15 years in prison for attempting to smuggle antiquities, according to media reports. Skakal is believed to be in Italy.
He could not be reached for comment.
Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi
APPOINTED BY GAMBIA
TO SERVE IN LEBANON
In 2005, businessman Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi was appointed honorary consul in Lebanon under the regime of then-Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, according to court records. In 2017, the Gambian government terminated Bazzi’s appointment.
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Bazzi in 2018, declaring that he was a Hezbollah financier who had channeled millions of dollars to the militant group through his business activities. The department also said he was a “close associate” of Jammeh, who has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses. A government corruption panel in Gambia in 2019 found, among other things, that one of Bazzi’s companies had stolen public money and that he had paid bribes to Jammeh. Bazzi was declared persona non grata.
An attorney for Bazzi declined to respond to questions. In 2019, Bazzi sought to overturn the U.S. sanction. In court records, he said the government had failed to provide evidence that he had financed Hezbollah. He also said he ended his relationship with Jammeh in 2016 after a series of threats. The sanction is still in place. Jammeh has denied wrongdoing.
APPOINTED BY BOTSWANA AND TANZANIA
TO SERVE IN THE UNITED STATES
Robert Shumake, a Detroit-area businessman, was honorary consul for Botswana from 2012 to 2015 and for Tanzania from 2013 to 2015.
In 2016, after Shumake’s tenure as honorary consul ended, airport authorities in Charlotte, North Carolina, seized more than $250,000 from the carry-on bag of one of his associates. The bag tested positive for cocaine, according to documents from the civil forfeiture case. Shumake told authorities that the cash was obtained as part of a legitimate fundraising event and denied the allegations related to drugs. Shumake also said he was representing an international nonprofit and had diplomatic immunity. The case was later settled.
In an unrelated case, Shumake pleaded guilty in late 2017 to misdemeanor violations after his mortgage auditing company was accused of improperly taking fees from distressed homeowners. Last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Shumake and others, alleging that they had set up a fraudulent crowdfunding scheme that promised investors profits from the cannabis industry.
David Michael, Shumake’s attorney in the cash seizure case, said that “there was no guilt associated with that money” and that the donations were collected for legitimate purposes. “The government has been on a rampage to seize any cash that anybody has,” Michael said. The SEC case is ongoing. In court documents, Shumake denied wrongdoing, saying he only served as a consultant and bears no liability.
APPOINTED BY RUSSIA
TO SERVE IN NORTH MACEDONIA
Sergej Samsonenko launched a sports betting business in Russia and later parlayed it into an international sports gambling empire. Samsonenko served as Russia’s honorary consul in North Macedonia from 2016 until August.
In 2014, before he was appointed honorary consul, Samsonenko appeared in a promotional video for a pro-Kremlin political party in North Macedonia. In 2017, a leaked report by North Macedonia’s intelligence service accused honorary consulates overseen by Samsonenko and another consul in the country of being “intelligence bases” and of being used by Russia to interfere with North Macedonia’s bid to join NATO. North Macedonia ended Samsonenko’s honorary consul appointment without explanation in August.
Samsonenko declined to comment, calling reports about him “lies and slander.” He has previously denied using his diplomatic status to advance Russia’s interests and said he did not use his office as a “spy center.” “I am not a political person, I am an honorary consul of Russia and I should support the politics of my home country,” Samsonenko told the Macedonidan news outlet Fokus in 2019.
APPOINTED BY JORDAN
TO SERVE IN HONDURAS
Schucry Kafie has served as Jordan’s honorary consul in Honduras since 1984. His influential family has many companies, including the medical supply firm Distribuidora Metropolitana SA, or DIMESA.
In 2015, prosecutors accused DIMESA of selling medical equipment at inflated prices to the Honduran government, in what authorities alleged was a “mega-fraud.” Kafie was among those arrested on charges that DIMESA had overbilled the government on a $118 million contract. In 2016, a Honduran court opted not to prohibit Kafie from leaving the country, noting that he was an honorary consul who sometimes needed to travel. The charges were later dismissed.
Kafie said that he was appointed as consul after the death of his father, who had held the position for 20 years. “There is no benefit,” Kafie said. “It is an honorable job.”
He said that the criminal charges were politically motivated and that the company did not overcharge the government. He added that the court allowed him to leave the country for health reasons and not because of his consular status.
A 2017 DIMESA statement said that that there was no corruption, that the contract was obtained through a transparent process and that the company complied with its terms.
APPOINTED BY SYRIA
TO SERVE IN CANADA
Syria appointed businessman Waseem Ramli as honorary consul in Montreal in 2019.
Ramli’s appointment concerned members of the Syrian diaspora in Canada because of his public support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since 2011, Assad’s regime has killed more than 200,000 civilians, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported. Ramli’s red Hummer displayed a photo of the president, and Ramli has defended Assad in social media posts. In 2019, Canada rescinded its approval of Ramli’s consular appointment before his term began. Canada’s then-foreign minister called Ramli’s views “shocking and unacceptable,” and the government launched a review of Canada’s honorary consul system.
Ramli could not be reached for comment. At the time of his nomination, he said he would represent Syrians regardless of their political views.
Articles and Investigations – ProPublica