Ethiopia diplomat jailed in UK for cannabis smuggling
(AFP) LONDON — A court in London on Thursday jailed an Ethiopian diplomat for trying to smuggle a large stash of cannabis through London's Heathrow Airport.
Amelework Wondemagegne, an official at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, had tried to claim diplomatic immunity when she was caught at the airport in April with 56 kilograms (123 pounds) of cannabis.
But Isleworth Crown Court in west London jailed her for 33 months after she admitted one count of drug smuggling.
The court had found that the 36-year-old was not entitled to immunity.
And judge Richard McGregor-Johnson told her: "The fact that you smuggled these drugs in the expectation that you would not be prosecuted if you were caught because of your diplomatic status is a significant factor in this case."
Wondemagegne, a mother of two, initially said a man had given her three suitcases containing the packages of cannabis before she left Addis Ababa airport for Heathrow.
She had said she had believed the packages contained meat and spices.
But judge McGregor-Johnson said Wondemagegne had told "a pack of lies".
The quantity of cannabis she had tried to smuggle was "substantial", he added.
"You knew perfectly well what you were doing...," he told her.
Wondemagegne's two children, aged 10 and 17, are being cared for by the staff of the Ethiopian embassy in Washington as her husband died of cancer in 2005.
She will be deported from Britain after serving her sentence.
Police said the slabs of cannabis in the suitcases, which had been sprinkled with chili powder, had a street value of £160,000 ($249,000, 203,000 euros).
# # #Diplomat tries to claim immunity after smuggling £160,000 of cannabis sprinkled with chilli powder into UKhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... z22OuNjHUq
A diplomat tried to claim immunity after smuggling £160,000-worth of cannabis sprinkled with chilli powder into the UK.
Amelework Wondemagegne, an Ethiopian embassy official, was stopped at Heathrow Airport with three suitcases containing 56 kilograms (123lb) of cannabis.
The 36-year-old mother of two initially said a man had given her the bags before she left Addis Ababa airport in the Ethiopian capital, and that she had believed they contained meat and spices.
But Isleworth Crown Court in west London found Wondemagegne, who is based in Washington DC, was not entitled to immunity and she was jailed for 33 months after admitting one count of drug smuggling today.
Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson, Recorder of Kensington and Chelsea, told her: 'The fact that you smuggled these drugs in the expectation that you would not be prosecuted if you were caught because of your diplomatic status is a significant factor in this case.'
Wondemagegne, who had worked in the visa section of the embassy since 2006, travelled into the UK on April 7 using an Ethiopian diplomatic passport and had a ticket to return to the US on April 17.
When her suitcases were opened by UK Border Agency officers at Heathrow’s Terminal Three, they were found to be packed with slabs of cannabis, sprinkled with chilli powder.
Although she claimed to be unsure what was in the cases, photographs taken on her camera showed her with the bags.
In one photo, she was wearing a necklace that was later found to be in a suitcase with the drugs.
Judge McGregor-Johnson said Wondemagegne had told 'a pack of lies' and that she was caught with a 'substantial quantity' of cannabis, in the second category of seriousness.
The judge described her as being 'worldly wise', adding: 'You knew perfectly well what you were doing and you knew perfectly well that drugs smuggling is illegally and seriously regarded.'
Wondemagegne’s two children, aged 10 and 17, live in Washington DC and are being cared for by Ethiopian embassy staff there.
She has been their sole carer since her husband died of cancer in 2005, a fact which Judge McGregor-Johnson said made it 'more extraordinary you should have committed this offence.'
He told the court he was satisfied she had not been coerced into being a drugs courier and that she had played a 'significant role' in the smuggling of the cannabis.
Wondemagegne, of Silver Spring in Maryland, will be deported from the UK after serving her sentence.
Peter Avery from the Border Force said: 'This was a significant amount of cannabis which could have ended up on the streets of the UK.
'It was the vigilance of Border Force officers which prevented this smuggling attempt from going ahead.
'Working with our law enforcement colleagues in the UK and around the world, we are determined to do all we can to stop the international drugs trade.'