- Category: Latest
- Published on Saturday, 04 August 2012 13:10
- Written by Admin
An Ethiopian embassy official who attempted to claim diplomatic immunity after he was caught at Heathrow Airport trying to smuggle cannabis into the UK has been jailed. Mother-of-two Amelework Wondemagegne, a diplomat based in Washington DC, was stopped at the airport carrying three suitcases containing 56 kilograms
(123lb) of herbal cannabis with a street value of £160,000, Isleworth Crown Court in west London was told.
The 36-year-old initially said a man had given her the bags before she departed from Addis Ababa airport, and she then tried to claim diplomatic immunity. But the court found she was not entitled to it and she was jailed for 33 months after admitting one count of drugs smuggling on Thursday.
Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson, the 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."
The diplomat, 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 full of slabs of cannabis that had been sprinkled with chilli powder.
Wondemagegne had claimed she did not know what was in the suitcases, but that she believed it was meat and spices. But photographs taken on her camera showed her with the bags. One depicted her wearing a necklace which 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.
Judge McGregor-Johnson said of that fact: "It makes 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, Maryland, will be deported from the UK after serving her sentence.