Diplomats arrested for cigarette smuggling

STOCKHOLM Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:21am EST

Cartons of contraband cigarettes are put on display at the Finance Ministry in Paris on September 4, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Cartons of contraband cigarettes are put on display at the Finance Ministry in Paris on September 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish police have arrested two North Korean diplomats on suspicion of smuggling 230,000 cigarettes into the Nordic country, the Swedish Customs Office said Friday.

The pair, a man and a woman who have diplomatic status in Russia, were stopped by Swedish customs officers Wednesday morning as they drove off a ferry from Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

Customs officials discovered Russian cigarettes in the car driven by the couple, Swedish Customs spokeswoman Monica Magnusson told Reuters.

The two North Koreans claimed diplomatic immunity.

"They were accredited as diplomats in Russia, but had no accreditation in Sweden," she said. "They were arrested on suspicion of smuggling."

Magnusson added that the pair were still being held by Swedish police and that she was not aware of them having any contact with North Korean officials since their arrest.

Sweden's Foreign Ministry said it had been informed of the arrests but would not comment directly on the matter, saying it was a criminal case and was being handled by the police.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin said foreign diplomats are only immune from criminal prosecution in countries where they have been accredited with the authorities.

"If you come to Sweden and commit a crime, you're just like any other foreign national," she said.

Sweden is one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, treated by much of the world as a rogue state due to human rights abuses and its possession of nuclear weapons despite opposition by the international community.

The Foreign Ministry said the arrests were primarily a police matter, but that the North Korean embassy in Sweden was in contact with the ministry over the matter.

An official at the North Korean embassy in Stockholm said earlier he had no knowledge of the arrests.

(Reporting by Jens Hansegard and Nick Vinocur; editing by Philippa Fletcher)