Last spring, in a tony neighborhood in Manila, the chaotic capital of the Philippines, two members of Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit sat down to lunch with a businessman they’d never met.
Their hope was to convince him to be part of an undercover operation. If he agreed, he would offer up his name and credentials to try to purchase an ambassadorship. What followed was an 18-month saga that took the Al Jazeera team from the Philippines to Malaysia and to the Caribbean.
The corruption they uncovered is told in Diplomats for Sale, the first series of the new podcast Al Jazeera Investigates. Over four parts, Al Jazeera’s investigative reporter Deborah Davies and producer Kevin Hirten expose how diplomatic passports are bought and sold on the open market, and how wealthy foreigners have managed to become ambassadors for Caribbean nations.
In part one, Davies and Hirten trace the roots of the problem back to the legal but controversial practice of citizenship by investment, a process by which Caribbean states and other nations sell passports in exchange for infrastructure and other investments — money that doesn’t always end up benefiting the country’s people.
If getting a regular citizenship from another country is a gold-level purchase for the rich, ambassadorships are the platinum level, complete with diplomatic immunity. Davies and Hirten dive into the world of diplomacy for sale in part two, revealing the epic story of a diplomat turned fugitive, Ali Reza Monfared.
The Iranian billionaire made his mark as an international oil trader, and used his Dominican ambassadorship to stay one step ahead of the police. But he ultimately had to trade in his silk suits for the pale blue uniform of one of Iran’s most notorious prisons.
To establish just how ambassadorships are bought and sold, Davies and Hirten knew they had to go undercover. They met Dominica’s political elites to see if they could get their businessman from the Philippines appointed. In part three, hear for yourself the secrete recordings and encrypted voice memos they gathered. In part four, things take an unexpected turn — and a surprise ending sends shockwaves across Dominica.
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