FCO letter "upgraded" minister's status to avoid arrest
A last minute letter by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to a London court purportedly upgrading Ehud Barak's visit from private to 'special' status saved the Israeli Defence Minister from certain arrest on charges of war crimes yesterday, 29th September.
While diplomats worked flat out throughout the day, the Israeli embassy was represented by Ms Clare Montgomery QC to defend Barak in the City of Westminster magistrate court. In 1998 Montgomery acted for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to fend off a request for his extradition to Spain.
Attorneys acting on behalf of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip filed their suit for the arrest of the Israeli minister at 9.30 yesterday morning. It took the deputy district judge Daphne Wickham almost eight hours to reach a decision on the case.
In her ruling, Judge Wickham noted the allegations of war crimes were well documented and "serious." Faced with a plea for 'diplomatic immunity' she called upon the FCO to clarify the nature of Barak's visit to United Kingdom.
Although a report of Barak's visit in the Jewish Chronicle (25 September) announced he was visiting to address a reception at the Labour conference, suggesting it was in a private capacity, a subsequent report in the paper's online edition (29th September) appeared after the filing of the legal case stating that Barak was scheduled to meet the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.
After several hours of diplomatic and legal wrangling the FCO issued letter to the court stating "Mr. Barak is in the United Kingdom both for the purposes of attending the Labour Party Conference and to attend official meetings with the Foreign Secretary (arranged prior to Mr Barak's arrival in the UK) and with Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary (requested by the Israeli Embassy prior to Mr Barak's arrival in the UK but confirmed subsequently)."
Sources to close MEMO questioned whether these previously unannounced meetings were only arranged after it became clear on Sunday that a legal case would be filed against Barak and the need arose to upgrade the status of the visit to 'special', thus affording diplomatic immunity to the Israeli Defence Minister.