Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ethiopia diplomat jailed in UK for cannabis smuggling

'Worldly wise': Ethiopian embassy official Amelework Wondemagegne was jailed for 33 months today

Ethiopian embassy official at first said she did not know what was in three cases but thought it was meat and spices
Photos showed her with the bags and her necklace was found in one case
The 36-year-old has been sole carer of her two children since their father died of cancer in 2005
Judge said this made her actions even more 'extraordinary'
She was jailed for 33 months at a west London court
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.
'Pack of lies': The drugs were covered in chilli powder and Wondemagegne at first claimed she thought the suitcases contained meat and spices

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.'

Slabs of cannabis: the drugs are believed to hold a street value of around £160,000
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.'