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Diplomatic Immunity May Protect Spanish Embassy Official

Diplomatic Immunity May Protect Spanish Embassy Official

A woman is dead and her husband is involved. But her husband may walk away without facing prosecution under Brazilian law. The reason? Diplomatic immunity.

The man in question is Jesús Figón, the security chief for Spain’s embassy in Brazil. Figón is under investigation in the death of his wife, Rosemary Justino Lopes. According to The Associated Press, Justino Lopez reportedly died from knife wounds.

Brazilian authorities told The Associated Press that Figón admitted killing his wife. However, Figón also said that the killing was an act of self-defense after his wife attacked him while drunk and holding a knife. The circumstances of the death are far from clear. What is also not clear is whether diplomatic immunity, the long-held concept that a foreign official working abroad is immune from prosecution under the laws of the host country, will protect Figón in this case.

Spanish officials have raised the possibility of the death being a case of domestic violence. If true, Figón might not be able to claim diplomatic immunity. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García‑Margallo, while not revealing details of the investigation into the death of Figón’s wife, told journalists that his country will not allow “diplomatic immunity to serve as an alibi in incidents as severe as domestic violence.” If the case does prove to be domestic violence, García‑Margallo said that Spain will strip Figón of diplomatic immunity.

There is evidence of domestic violence in the Figón marriage, but police records show that Figón was reportedly the victim in the past. The present inquiry will call upon investigators from both Spain and Brazil. That said, Figón is no stranger to the workings of Spanish law. He was the police chief in a suburb of Madrid before landing his post in Spain’s embassy in Brasilia in 2012.

If diplomatic immunity is upheld, the most severe action that Brazilian authorities could take against Figón would be to expel him from the country. At that point, it would be up to Spain to prosecute him.

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