Qatari Drag-Racers Did Not Have Diplomatic Immunity

AP Photo
The Associated Press
Washington, D.C.

Last week, Breitbart News reported that two Middle Easterners who had drag-raced luxury cars in Beverly Hills had tried to claim diplomatic immunity before fleeing the U.S. In fact, they did not enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Last week, a yellow Ferrari and white Porsche were caught on video driving at extreme speeds on residential streets with children present, blowing through stop signs at speeds that could be lethal to cross-traffic. The cars eventually pulled into a home that was reportedly being rented for an exorbitant $45,000 per month. A journalist confronted the alleged driver, a Qatari sheikh, for his reckless driving, whereupon the sheikh allegedly shouted “F*** America,” flicked a cigarette at the American journalist, and told him he could get away with murdering him.

Police later arrived at the home. The Qatari sheikh, Khalid bin Hamad al Thani, told police he was a member of the Qatari royal family and therefore had diplomatic immunity. The police let him be while they investigated the claim, and did not take immediate action because no officer had witnessed the incident.

It has now been confirmed that the sheikh had no diplomatic immunity. He has reportedly fled the United States, and taken his cars with him.

Diplomatic immunity is an essential element of a nation’s foreign affairs. The legal doctrine is derived from embassies. A nation hands over a plot of land to a foreign nation for that foreign power to build an embassy, which is regarded as part of the sovereign territory of that foreign nation. Countries make these mini-land-swaps to facilitate open and civil discussion between governments in order to prevent and peacefully resolve conflicts.

Diplomatic immunity is based on the legal fiction that when this country grants a plot of land to be sovereign soil of another nation, the ambassador who lives in that embassy carries that foreign soil with him wherever he goes. He becomes the personal embodiment of the foreign nation, and therefore is not subject to the jurisdiction of its laws. American ambassadors enjoy this same immunity when they represent this country in foreign lands.

This diplomatic immunity is strictly limited, however: it applies only to ambassador-rank foreign officials, their families, their superiors (foreign heads of state and foreign ministers), and other high-ranking officers as official representatives of the foreign nation. Such people cannot be charged with crimes in their host nation.

If they offend the U.S. government, twe can expel them permanently from the United States. Their home country can also choose to withdraw immunity from that person, opening him or her up to criminal prosecution here.

There is no excuse for letting the speedsters get away with his allegedly criminal acts. When he claimed immunity, the police could have demanded immediate proof of immunity before backing off.

For example, in Washington, D.C., diplomats’ cars have special license plates so that law enforcement officers know if they are dealing with a person who might be immune to American law. Otherwise, anyone pulled over by a police officer could simply shout, “I have diplomatic immunity,” and drive off.

If the sheikh failed to produce any evidence, then the police could have presumed that he was not immune. And once they saw the video showing these brazen and dangerous actions, even though the video did not conclusively identify the driver, the officers should have been able to impound the car and detain its owner. They should also have taken his passport.

It is unclear whether the police’s actions were influenced by a “celebrity justice” approach of going easy on rich and famous people, or political correctness because the individuals in question were obviously Middle Eastern Muslims. What is clear is that the situation should have been handled differently, and the responsible people held to account in an American court of law.

Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.