The International Writers Magazine: Comment
DIARIES PART IV
James Skinner - the Honorary
Taken for a ride
is now a great sign on all Spains borders that says, Welcome
to Europe. Gateway to heaven.
the 7th of February, three masked men entered the Spanish Consulate
in Berne, Switzerland. The Swiss police were quick in reacting to the
alarm and within minutes they had cordoned off the building. Unfortunately,
the intruders, unable to carry out their crime, had left before any
arrests could be made. Were the thugs terrorists, kidnappers or common
burglars? After various theories had been bounced around the common
conclusion was that they belonged to a new breed of criminals that were
after non other than either passports or visas to be sold later on the
black market. Sounded like a similar type of planned operation like
that of George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Oceans Twelve
except this time it was for a more sinister booty than that of good
old money or jewellery.
The trafficking of illegal human beings across the world is becoming
as ruthless and vicious as that of arms and drugs. The USA has been
fighting if for decades whilst the European Union is only now realising
that they have a serious problem on their hands of illegal immigration
mounting in leaps and bounds. Spain has just passed a law, against the
wishes of some of its European colleagues to legalise and give residency
to approximately 1million humans of various nationalities and races
that have been in the country for years. This is certainly a humane
move on the part of a civilised government, but in a way it has opened
up Pandoras box. T here is now a great sign on all Spains
borders that says, Welcome to Europe. Gateway to heaven.
But back to the Berne incident.
Most of the European states continue to issue warnings to all its citizens
when they travel abroad to be aware of pickpockets and other undesirable
aliens who may attempt to steal their passports. We are not talking
about the usual money grabbers that have existed as long as prostitution,
but of real professionals. A passport or a visa can be sold on the black
market for anything between two to three thousand Euros. Other than
this brief introduction of a real organised criminal racket, as a member
of Her Majestys consular core, I have had my fare share of criminal
cases to handle from kidnapping to rape and from drug trafficking to
wife beating. Yes sir, Ive lived through it all.
First things first.
Consular staff automatically attend to every citizen of the United Kingdom
who falls foul of the law in a foreign country. There duty is to ascertain
that subject is aware of his or her rights according to the law. This
is regardless of the crime that may have been committed. The first step
is to obtain permission from either the police or the court to allow
access to the defendant. The initial visit is to inform the detainee
that he is entitled to a lawyer and a translator and what to expect
during the process of the legal procedure. Should the citizen request
it his next of kin is informed. From then on, the law takes over. Spain
is a civilised country and therefore abides by all human rights issues
and is no different to that of the rest of the European Union. So what
about specific cases then?
Lets take the one involving a kidnapping that started down in
Portugal and ended up here in Vigo. A crime that really was not what
it seemed. Apparently two partners in a travel agency business had had
a dispute over money. Not uncommon. Trouble was that one of them lived
over in America. So, when he travelled to the continent with his wife
and refused to pay up, the partner in Europe decided to hold the
wife as a sort of guarantee until he did. Sounds rather cockeyed
but the whole affair took place first of all down in Lisbon with a subsequent
joy ride all the way up to Northern Spain. The whole party stopped off
for meals and a bit of sightseeing on the way. The cops on both sides
of the border kept a close watch similar to that of the movie Thelma
and Louise. Trouble is that when they finally nabbed them, they
did not buy the touring bit and booked them anyway. As I said previously,
my role was to make sure that they were within their rights and then
let the lawyers get on with the case.
Then there was the case of a drug peddler who was caught with about
six kilos of cocaine, three mobile phones and half a dozen credit cards.
Got a call from my friends at the police station to tell me that a Brit
had been caught wandering around Vigo with a rucksack over
his shoulder and appeared to be lost. They tried at first to help him
but when asked for identification, out popped all the goodies mentioned
earlier. This was an obvious case of an amateur courier out for a bit
of cash on the side to pay for his holiday. A holiday that will
cost him at least seven years in the nick!
The best episode yet was when I taken for a ride, or almost.
Once again, I get a call from the police station to say that a Brit
had been arrested for possession of a whole bunch of false credit cards.
He and his partner, not British, had been swindling other Brits throughout
Spain for some time. The Spanish cops had trailed Butch and Sundance
from Benidorm to Seville to Cuenca and finally up to this neck of the
woods. Green Galicia! When I turned up at the police station to carry
out my usual chores, two guards accompanied me to his cell but before
I entered, one of them said, his only document is a UK driving
licence. Says hes lost his passport.
Now, remember what I said earlier on about the loss of documents and
how serious it was if it fell into the hands of thugs. Like the innocent
sod that I am, my first thoughts were to assist this felonious creature
in his identification. Picture the following scenario.
Morning, Im the British Consul. I hand him the full
package of information on his rights. Understand that you lost
your passport. Do you remember where or when?
Whilst he sat there in front of me, silent as a doormat I began to look
at the only ID he had on him, his driving licence.
Ah, I said, I see you live in Islington. I know it
well. I lived there myself a few years ago. You should have seen
the guys face.
He then said, with a perfect Cockney accent, Got no relatives
back home. I dont need no help!
I pursed my lips and continued, did you by chance live anywhere
near the White Heart, near Percy St.? Good Bass! he kept silent.
Oh well. Never mind!
I got up, bid farewell and left. I had done my duty. I told the cops
that he sounded like a genuine Londoner and that I would get back to
them with confirmation of his passport details. It was at this moment
that another cop came into the room and said to me, dont
worry Mr. Consul, Interpol have just identified him. Hes an Algerian
wanted all over Spain. Hes travelling with forged IDs.
Nevertheless it taught me a lesson. Dont trust anyone in this
sodding world. Not even somebody from Islington!
© James Skinner. February 10th 2005.
Congrats and good luck to James for his new weekly column in the Vigo
James Skinner Diplomatic Diaries Pt 3
James Skinner in Vigo Pt 2
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