Ethiopian diplomat jailed in Britain for cannabis smuggling

AFP , Thursday 2 Aug 2012

A court in London sentences a female Ethiopian diplomat to prison for 33 months as she was caught at the Heathrow airport in April with 56 kilograms of cannabis

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.

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."

The 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 McGregor-Johnson said the diplomat had told "a pack of lies".

"You knew perfectly well what you were doing," he told her. The quantity of cannabis she had tried to smuggle was "substantial", he added.

The diplomat's two children, aged 10 and 17, are being cared for by the staff of the Ethiopian embassy in Washington.

She had been their sole carer since her husband's death from cancer in 2005.

The judge said of this fact: "It makes it more extraordinary you should have committed this offence."

Amelework Wondemagegne, who has worked in the embassy's visa department since 2006, 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).

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