Diplomatic impunity?

December 3, 1999

A senior British diplomat has been flouting diplomatic service rules by offering to work as an immigration consultant for universities.

The THES revealed in September that Ian Wall, former head of the visa section at the British Embassy in Beijing, had breached Foreign and Commonwealth Office procedures. While still employed as a civil servant, he had been sounding out universities over his plans to leave the FCO and set up a business helping universities to secure a smooth passage through immigration controls for prospective students.

The FCO said then that Mr Wall's failure to follow its procedures on post-retirement employment was a "genuine error". Mr Wall, who officially left his post in Beijing in September, took "special unpaid leave".

It has now emerged that Mr Wall returned to Beijing in October without the FCO's knowledge, and has been working as a consultant in China while still an employee of the British government. This is in breach of diplomatic service regulations, which stipulate that three months must elapse between leaving the FCO and taking up work in a related area.

A document obtained by The THES,

circulated in China by a company called ESL/Acorn Consulting Company, says:

"You may wish to note, with effect from October 18 1999, that Mr Ian Wall, the former consul and head of the visa section at the British Embassy in Beijing, will be available at (ESL/Acorn's address in Cofco Plaza, Beijing) for private consultations on ... aspects of British visa requirements."

An FCO spokeswoman this week confirmed that Mr Wall, although on unpaid leave, is still technically an employee and subject to diplomatic service regulations.

"As soon as we became aware (that Mr Wall was back in Beijing), we asked him to return to the UK," she said. "We are now following Cabinet Office rules about his request to take up this business, and they are under consideration. He is considering his position with us."

ESL/Acorn Consulting Company, which was offering Mr Wall's services, has been the subject of an attack from a rival company, ESL Worldwide Education Service Centre of Full Link Plaza, Beijing, which claims an exclusive registered service mark in China and says it is "not associated in any way with Ian Wall".

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