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July 31, 2012 (TSR) - EMBEZZLEMENT of thousands of taxpayer dollars, defamation proceedings and a fight over ownership of a property title are some of the recent legal cases in which Australian embassies around the world have been embroiled.
Cases from Argentina, Samoa and Papua New Guinea have shown scores of diplomats and foreign staff employed in embassies are being investigated for fraud and misconduct.
Documents obtained under freedom-of-information regulations from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reveal that a former employee in the Australian embassy in Argentina, with an accomplice, had embezzled thousands of dollars.
The employee, who had cashed an embassy cheque for about $US3500 and 16 pension cheques worth a total of $US8715, was found guilty in Argentina last year and given a one-year suspended jail sentence. The accomplice was granted probation.
A departmental officer working in the Australian embassy in Samoa was sued for making defamatory remarks, with the offending article then picked up and republished in Australia by a Sydney radio station. The federal government settled the case confidentially.
And in another case in Papua New Guinea, the embassy was caught up in court action when a local company claimed the Australian government had failed to hand over proper title documents for a piece of land which the company had purchased. The department said an error had led to the issuing of two titles and confusion relating to the sale.
In the last financial year, the number of ethics and conduct investigations jumped to 41, of which eight were found to be substantiated.
The previous year, 45 investigations resulted in 10 substantiated cases. Inquiries in both years were well up from 2007-08 when there were six reported investigations for misconduct.
A department spokeswoman said it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases.
Source: The Age