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Does Diplomatic Immunity Equal Arrest-Proof?

By Laura Strachan, Esq. on January 03, 2011 6:15 AM

Hollywood would have you believe that people with diplomatic immunity can break the law with impunity. They have a license to kill or steal, is how movies often portray it.

Alas, reality can be much more sobering, as a Philippine diplomat's son recently discovered.

Nigel Salmingo was charged with a laundry list of white collar crimes: theft, forgery and money laundering. The thirty seven counts arose after Salmingo reportedly stole $300,000 while working as an office manager for a Honolulu law firm. Salmingo reportedly told police he thought he was free to steal the money because he had diplomatic immunity, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

Salmingo concealed his theft for over 18 months and the Star-Advertiser reports that the money went to fund a lavish lifestyle full of bar hopping, new cars, and trips to expensive restaurants. With the failure of his diplomatic immunity defense, the 31-year-old Salmingo now faces up to 10 years in prison and will ultimately be deported back to his home country after serving his punishment.

Diplomatic immunity is a principle in international law that provides foreign diplomats with protection from legal action in the country in which he or she works. This legal protection extends to both the diplomat and their family in a range of civil and criminal lawsuits. The extent of the protection was tested when Salmingo said he thought he had a license to steal.

Unable to post the $500,000 bail, Salmingo has been in custody since May awaiting his trial. Salmingo's case was less of an abuse of diplomatic immunity (because he never had it in the first place) and more of a misplaced trust in a doctrine in order to engage in criminal behavior.

Solid lesson learned: Don't believe everything you see in the movies.

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