Venezuela envoy’s rise ends with murder of senior

Questions raised as to why Sagaray was stripped of diplomatic immunity that could have protected him in kenya

Written by New York Times | Published: September 8, 2012 1:52:16 am

Dwight Sagaray’s rise in the Venezuelan foreign service was almost as swift as his downfall.

Within days of being hired at the Foreign Ministry in July 2010,Sagaray was sent to Kenya. A short time later,he was promoted to the No. 2 post at the embassy in Nairobi. Then,after the head of the diplomatic mission left the country in May amid charges of sexual harassment,Sagaray,35,suddenly became his country’s top representative in Kenya.

But in mid-July,officials in Caracas sent a veteran diplomat,Olga Fonseca Giménez,to take over as chargé d’affaires in Nairobi. Twelve days later,she was found strangled to death. The Kenyan authorities quickly charged Sagaray with murder.

It seemed a jaw-dropping case of diplomatic foul play,which the police said was motivated by “jostling for positions in the embassy.” But almost as stunning as the gruesome murder itself — Fonseca was bound hand and foot and a rope was tied around her neck — was the rapidity with which Venezuelan officials stripped Sagaray of the diplomatic immunity that could have protected him.

For reasons that have not been explained,Venezuelan officials cleared the way for the Kenyan police to arrest Sagaray within 24 hours of the discovery of the body on July 27. “Why did the government decide so quickly to take away diplomatic immunity?” said Yenibel Lugo,a lawyer representing Sagaray.

It is rare for a government to give up the immunity of one of its diplomats,according to experts in international law who were unable to point to a similar case. That has led to questions about what motivated the Venezuela to give Sagaray a high rank so quickly — and then cut him loose so fast. “They threw him to the wolves,” said Hector Griffin,a retired Venezuelan diplomat who said he knew Fonseca and had been hired as a lawyer by Sagaray’s family. It was he who gave the details of Sagaray’s hiring and promotion.

Only a high-level official could have made the decision to remove Sagaray’s immunity,Griffin said,such as Foreign Minister Nícolas Maduro or even President Hugo Chávez.

Problems at the embassy in Nairobi appear to have started some time after Sagaray’s arrival in mid-2010. In an interview with the newspaper Últimas Noticias,the former head of the Nairobi mission,Gerardo Carrillo-Silva,said that he had locked horns with Sagaray,“who refused to recognise my authority.” Carrillo-Silva denied accusations of sexual harassament. Kenyan news accounts said some male workers at the embassy had accused him of exposing himself and chasing them around while naked.

In July,Fonseca was sent to take over the embassy,but her arrival in Kenya did not go well.

The employees who had accused Carrillo Silva of harassment said that Fonseca tried to pressure them to withdraw their accusations. Fonseca’s body was found on July 27 at the two-storey ambassador’s residence. Sagaray has pleaded not guilty to the murder.

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