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About the Shadow Diplomats investigation

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Shadow Diplomats shines light on one of the least-examined roles in international diplomacy: the honorary consul. These volunteer diplomats work from their home countries to promote the interests of foreign governments, typically in places without an embassy or consulate.

Many honorary consuls provide valuable services. But the system, intended to leverage the experience and connections of upstanding citizens, has empowered unscrupulous operators and imperiled vulnerable communities around the world.

The Shadow Diplomats investigation marks the first collaboration between the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and ProPublica. One hundred and sixty journalists from 46 countries joined the reporting.

ICIJ, ProPublica and media partners identified at least 500 current and former honorary consuls who have been accused of crimes or embroiled in controversy. Some were convicted of serious offenses or caught exploiting their status for personal gain; others drew criticism for their support of authoritarian regimes.

Consuls have stood accused of hiding cash and contraband in their offices and pouches. They’ve invoked diplomatic credentials to avoid searches and arrests. They’ve denounced sanctions against Russia, and publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine.

The numbers are almost certainly an undercount. Seventy-eight countries do not make public the names of their honorary consuls. The lack of transparency and accountability fuel the controversies at the heart of this investigation.

Before the investigation was published, questions from reporters working on the project prompted impact in two countries. Germany and Austria announced the dismissal of one consul in Brazil. Another consul in Switzerland announced his resignation.

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How the reporting started

Scattered references to honorary consuls have surfaced for years in leaked documents at the center of multiple investigations by ICIJ and its partners into the world of offshore wealth.

ICIJ reporter Will Fitzgibbon and ProPublica’s Debbie Cenziper began pulling together narratives and case studies chronicling the abuses perpetrated by honorary consuls. Media partners around the world, as well as student journalists from Northwestern University’s Medill Investigative Lab, led by Cenziper, were instrumental to this effort.

Together with media partners around the world, the team at ICIJ and ProPublica collected the names of honorary consuls, including those who had abused their positions.

The names of consuls — or sometimes simply their titles — came up in news clips, government investigations, sanctions lists and other reports. Reporters searched court databases in Brazil, France, Ukraine, Spain, Germany and submitted public information requests in Croatia, Finland, El Salvador and Honduras, among other countries.

Patterns started to emerge. The team identified accused operatives from the terrorist group Hezbollah who have had honorary consul status — reporting featured prominently in ICIJ and ProPublica’s lead story.

The team also identified consuls sanctioned by the United States and other governments, including members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Those findings will feature in a forthcoming story that examines Russia’s use of the honorary consul system.

Transparency challenges

There is no international database of honorary consuls, and many countries maintain poor records, or release no information at all. ICIJ’s data team contacted the foreign ministries of countries that failed to make the names of their consuls public. Reporters requested the names of their consuls and for other information about them; most failed to reply.

Using information from public records’ requests and lists of consuls published online, the team created an index to assess the transparency of countries and their honorary consul appointments.

That index is available here and the findings will be part of a forthcoming story about how governments have failed to oversee the troubled system of international diplomacy.

Do you have a story about corruption, fraud, or abuse of power?

ICIJ accepts information about wrongdoing by corporate, government or public services around the world. We do our utmost to guarantee the confidentiality of our sources.

The Shadow Diplomats investigation is brought to you by:

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Director: Gerard Ryle

Managing editor: Fergus Shiel

Senior editors: Ben Hallman, Dean Starkman

Data editor: Emilia Díaz-Struck

Reporters: Jelena Cosic, Will Fitzgibbon, Miriam Pensack, Delphine Reuter, Nicole Sadek, Margot Williams

Associate editor and fact checker: Richard H.P. Sia

Online editor: Hamish Boland-Rudder

Digital editor: Asraa Mustufa

Web developer: Antonio Cucho Gamboa

Copy editor: Joe Hillhouse

Chief technology officer: Pierre Romera

Technology team: Caroline Desprat, Whitney Awanayah

Training manager: Jelena Cosic

Illustrator: Matt Rota

Reporters and editors

    • Besar Likmeta (Albania)
    • Stefan Melichar (Austria)
    • Michael Nikbakhsh (Austria)
    • Aliaksei Hulitski (Belarus)
    • Stanislau Ivashkevich (Belarus)
    • Alexander Yarashevich (Belarus)
    • Lars Bové (Belgium)
    • Kristof Clerix (Belgium)
    • Xavier Counasse (Belgium)
    • Anna Beatriz Anjos (Brazil)
    • Caio de Freitas Paes (Brazil)
    • Júlia Rohden (Brazil)
    • Matheus Santino (Brazil)
    • Natalia Viana (Brazil)
    • Guilherme Amado (Brazil)
    • Eduardo Barretto (Brazil)
    • Tácio Lorran (Brazil)
    • Atanas Tchobanov (Bulgaria)
    • Sandrine Sawadogo (Burkina Faso)
    • Josiane Kouagheu (Cameroon)
    • Christian Locka (Cameroon)
    • Romain Schué (Canada)
    • Frédéric Zalac (Canada)
    • Robert Cribb (Canada)
    • Alberto Arellano (Chile)
    • Benjamín Miranda (Chile)
    • Mauricio Builes (Colombia)
    • Carlos Eduardo Huertas (Colombia)
    • Juan Felipe Lozano (Colombia)
    • Juan David Olmos (Colombia)
    • Andrés Bermúdez-Liévano (Colombia / Costa Rica)
    • María Teresa Ronderos (Colombia / Costa Rica)
    • Hayatte Abdou (Comoros)
    • Mercedes Aguero (Costa Rica)
    • Gabriel Pacheco Vega (Costa Rica)
    • Hulda Miranda (Costa Rica)
    • Mašenjka Bačić (Croatia)
    • Anja Vladisavljević (Croatia)
    • Delfin Mocache Massoko (Equatorial Guinea)
    • Jyri Hänninen (Finland)
    • Ville Juutilainen (Finland)
    • Johanna Mattinen (Finland)
    • Jörg Diehl (Germany)
    • Roman Lehberger (Germany)
    • Benedikt Strunz (Germany)
    • Felix Voogt (Germany)
    • Sophia Baumann (Germany)
    • Dajana Kollig (Germany)
    • Frederik Obermaier (Germany)
    • Bastian Obermayer (Germany)
    • Özge Inan (Germany)
    • Mauritius Much (Germany)
    • Petra Blum (Germany)
    • Andreas Braun (Germany)
    • Emmanuel K. Dogbevi (Ghana)
    • Cindy Espina (Guatemala)
    • Francisco Rodríguez (Guatemala)
    • Akoumba Diallo (Guinea)
    • Jennifer Avila (Honduras)
    • Celia Pousset (Honduras)
    • Kamilla Marton (Hungary)
    • Andras Petho (Hungary)
    • Zsuzsanna Wirth (Hungary)
    • Uri Blau (Israel)
    • Daniel Dolev (Israel)
    • Paolo Biondani (Italy)
    • Gloria Riva (Italy)
    • Leo Sisti (Italy)
    • Ethar AlAzem (Jordan)
    • Alia Ibrahim (Lebanon)
    • Diana Moukalled (Lebanon)
    • Hala Nasreddine (Lebanon)
    • Hazem El Amin (Lebanon)
    • Jana Barakat (Lebanon)
    • Šarūnas Černiauskas (Lithuania)
    • Christophe Bumb (Luxembourg)
    • Luc Caregari (Luxembourg)
    • Laurent Schmit (Luxembourg)
    • Saska Cvetkovska (Macedonia)
    • Maja Jovanovska (Macedonia)
    • Georgina Zerega (Mexico)
    • Mathieu Tourliere (Mexico)
    • Armando Talamantes (Mexico)
    • Mago Torres (Mexico / Costa Rica)
    • Dejan Milovac (Montenegro)
    • Ali Amar (Morocco)
    • Soufiane Sbiti (Morocco)
    • Ramu Sapotka (Nepal)
    • Krishna Acharya (Nepal)
    • Moussa Aksar (Niger)
    • Mabel Rehnfeldt (Paraguay)
    • Attila Biro (Romania)
    • Vasile Mircea Varlam (Romania)
    • Mika Velikovsky (Russia)
    • Samo Demšar (Slovenia)
    • Klara Škrinjar (Slovenia)
    • Matej Zwitter (Slovenia)
    • Anuška Delić (Slovenia)
    • Simon Allison (South Africa)
    • Daniele Grasso (Spain)
    • Montse Hidalgo (Spain)
    • Jesús G. Albalat (Spain)
    • Ricardo Mir de Francia (Spain)
    • Joaquin Castellón (Spain)
    • Fredrik Laurin (Sweden)
    • Sylvain Besson (Switzerland)
    • Christian Broennimann (Switzerland)
    • Bernhard Odehnal (Switzerland)
    • Oliver Zihlmann (Switzerland)
    • Pierre-Claver Kuvo (Togo)
    • Pelin Unker (Turkey)
    • Serdar Vardar (Turkey)
    • Hoda Osman (United States)
    • Jordan Anderson (United States)
    • Emily Anderson Stern (United States)
    • Julian Andreone (United States)
    • Sela Breen (United States)
    • Quinn Clark (United States)
    • Belinda Clarke (United States)
    • Hannah Feuer (United States)
    • Margaret Fleming (United States)
    • Eva Herscowitz (United States)
    • Linus Hoeller (United States)
    • Michael Korsch (United States)
    • Michelle Liu (United States)
    • Henry Roach (United States)
    • Evan Robinson-Johnson (United States)
    • Susanti Sarkar (United States)
    • Héctor Silva (United States)
    • Dhivya Sridar (United States)
    • Grace Wu (United States)
    • Ziva Branstetter (United States)
    • Debra Cenziper (United States)
    • Stephen Engelberg (United States)
    • Boyzell Hosey (United States)
    • Jeremy Kutner (United States)
    • Lisa Larson-Walker (United States)
    • Sarah Matthews (United States)
    • Matthew Orr (United States)
    • Diego Sorbara (United States)
    • Alexis Stephens (United States)
    • Tracy Weber (United States)
    • John Mukela (Zambia)

    Media partners

    Albania

    • BIRN

    Austria

    • Profil

    Belarus

    • Belarusian Investigative Center

    Belgium

    • De Tijd
    • Knack
    • Le Soir

    Brazil

    • Agência Pública
    • Metrópoles

    Bulgaria

    • BIRD

    Burkina Faso

    • L’Economiste Du Faso

    Cameroon

    • Le Monde Afrique
    • The Museba Project

    Canada

    • CBC
    • Radio Canada
    • Toronto Star

    Chile

    • Ciper

    Colombia

    • CONNECTAS
    • Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP)

    Comoros

    • National Magazine Comores

    Costa Rica

    • Grupo Repretel
    • Radioemisoras de la Universidad de Costa Rica
    • Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP)

    Croatia

    • Oštro

    Equatorial Guinea

    • Diario Rombe

    Finland

    • YLE

    Germany

    • Der Spiegel
    • NDR
    • Platform Investico
    • Paper Trail Media
    • Süddeutsche Zeitung
    • WDR

    Ghana

    • Ghana Business News

    Guatemala

    • Plaza Pública

    Honduras

    • Contracorriente

    Hungary

    • Direkt36

    Israel

    • Shomrim

    Italy

    • L’Espresso

    Jordan

    • ARIJ

    Lebanon

    • Daraj

    Lithuania

    • Siena.lt

    Luxembourg

    • Reporter.lu

    Macedonia

    • Investigative Reporting Lab

    Mexico

    • El País
    • Proceso
    • Quinto Elemento Lab

    Montenegro

    • MANS

    Morocco

    • Le Desk

    Nepal

    • Center for Investigative Journalism

    Niger

    • L’Evenement

    Paraguay

    • Grupo ABC Color

    Romania

    • Context Investigative Reporting Project

    Russia

    • iStories

    Slovenia

    • Oštro

    South Africa

    • The Continent

    Spain

    • El País
    • El Periódico
    • La Sexta

    Sweden

    • SVT

    Switzerland

    • Tamedia

    Togo

    • De Cive (The Citizen) / Togo reporting post

    Turkey

    • Deutsche Welle

    United States

    • Northwestern University’s Medill Investigative Lab
    • ProPublica

    Zambia

    • Makanday Media
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