Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain


11:30 am - June 26th 2012

by Carl Gardner    


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We’ve learned to expect the unexpected in the case of Julian Assange: his case always seems to throw up one more unusual legal twist. Which is astonishing in what is, in reality, a straightforward case of a proper and lawful European Arrest Warrant.

Assuming Assange’s bail conditions remained similar to those initially imposed, he must have breached his bail conditions by failing regularly to report to a police station in the last few days, and by not staying overnight at an address agreed with prosecutors. That breach of bail conditions is what renders him liable to immediate arrest.

I’m not sure that the breach makes those who stood surety for him liable to forfeit the money they offered. Their role is to guarantee his turning up at his next court or extradition appointment, rather than to vouch for his sticking by all his bail conditions.

But Assange is safe from arrest inside the Ecuadorian embassy because of a different Vienna Convention – this time the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It’s clear, then, that Assange cannot be arrested so long as the Ecuadorians protect him inside their embassy. It is worth noting though that the Ecuadorians could, if they wanted to, invite the police in to make their arrest.

Julian Assange is now at the mercy of Ecuador.

But it doesn’t follow that refugee status in itself would give Assange any sort of right to leave the UK unmolested. The real legal question is whether there’s any legal way Assange can bring himself within some sort of legal immunity from arrest so as to enable him to get out of the embassy and on a flight to Quito.

So – can he?

According to article 22.3 of the Vienna Convention, Assange could try to get to Heathrow or a private airfield in an Ecuadorian ambassadorial car. But I think there are real difficulties with this. First, is there such a car at all? Could a black London taxi hired by the Ecuadorians count as the mission’s “means of transport”? There must be doubt about this. More problematic still, Assange would have to get into any car somehow before being arrested on the pavement. So the “means of transport” option seems closed to him.

There is of course the theoretical possibility that Assange might be smuggled out in a “diplomatic bag”, which is also protected by the Vienna Convention, this time article 27, which states:

3. The diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained.
4. The packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use.

There’s no doubt it can be big enough to contain a person, and although it can’t legally contain a person under article 27.4, the ban on opening it suggests that a person can in practice be smuggled across borders this way. It has been tried in fact, as Katy Lee has pointed out, when in the 1980s Nigerian government agents tried to smuggle Umaru Dikko out of Britain. They apparently failed because the crate didn’t bear the external markings required by article 27.4. The inviolability of diplomatic bags was also a hot issue after the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher.

But I wouldn’t try it if I were Julian Assange. For a start, there may be some room to argue that a “receiving state” like Britain can lawfully insist on a diplomatic bag being opened or at least returned to its place of origin if it has grounds to suspect it contains more than just diplomatic articles. Canada, for instance, reserves the right to do so.

Perhaps more importantly, the fact that British officials couldn’t lawfully open a diplomatic bag containing Assange does not mean an airline is obliged to carry it. Given the complex legal issues here, I wouldn’t blame any carrier at the moment from refusing to take an Ecuadorian crate big enough to contain a man. And even if they did, I wouldn’t fancy being sealed into a crate for a long flight to South America, perhaps via Madrid. The diplomatic bag idea really is best left to fiction.

More realistic would be the possibility of appointing Assange as a “diplomatic courier” with the task of taking a diplomatic bag (containing a few blank papers perhaps, or a thank-you note to President Rafael Correa). About diplomatic couriers, aticle 27 of the Vienna Convention says

5. The diplomatic courier, who shall be provided with an official document indicating his status and the number of packages constituting the diplomatic bag, shall be protected by the receiving State in the performance of his functions. He shall enjoy person inviolability and shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.
6. The sending State or the mission may designate diplomatic couriers ad hoc. In such cases the provisions of paragraph 5 of this article shall also apply, except that the immunities therein mentioned shall cease to apply when such a courier has delivered to the consignee the diplomatic bag in his charge.

There must be a reasonable argument that those rules do apply, and London might well refuse to accept Assange as a courier. In any case, it might be argued that the article 27.5 immunity from arrest is not absolute, but applies only in the performance of his functions as a courier. I would be concerned, if I were Assange, the British authorities might legally be able to arrest him on grounds entirely unrelated to the courier mission he wanted to undertake.

Could Assange obtain any further diplomatic immunity? It’s not possible for Ecuador to help him by granting him citizenship (which wouldn’t automatically entail the loss of Australian citizenship by the way) and appointing him ambassador to London – under article 9 of the Vienna Convention, as I’ve said, London could simply refuse to accept him.

But there is one final, intriguing possibility. I don’t say it would work, legally. It’s the only thing I can think of that might work, though. It’s so bizarre that it’s surely fantasy – but it’s such fun that I have to mention it.

Ecuador could theoretically appoint Assange one of its representatives to the United Nations, under rule 25 of the UN General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure. It’s true that a Credentials Committee (on which the United States sits at the moment, as a matter of interest) would consider and report on Assange’s appointment, and that the General Assembly would then make a decision on it – and could presumably reject him.

But under rule 29, he would be “seated” provisionally until the General Assembly made its decision – and crucially, would have the same rights as other representatives. That presumably includes the special kind of diplomatic immunity granted by article IV, section 11 of the New York Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which says:

Representatives of Members to the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations and to conferences convened by the United Nations, shall, while exercising their functions and during their journey to and from the place of meeting, enjoy the following privileges and immunities:
(a) immunity from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of their personal baggage, and, in respect of words spoken or written and all acts done by them in their capacity as representatives, immunity from legal process of every kind;

Note that the immunity from personal arrest or detention applies not only while a representative exercises his functions, but in a more absolute sense when travelling to and from the place of meeting.

There seems to me a decent argument that, if Assange were appointed according to the proper procedure and, in due course, subsequently wanted to attend a UN meeting as Ecuador’s representative, then unless and until the General Assembly discredited him, he would be immune from arrest on any journey to or from that meeting.

If, then, Assange were travelling to a UN meeting – perhaps in one of the UN subsidiary bases in Geneva, Vienna or Nairobi but most obviously, in New York – then he could not be arrested in London before catching his flight. Nor, if that argument works, could he be arrested by the American authorities in New York on his way from JFK airport (say) to the UN complex in downtown Manhattan, or on his way back, presumably to catch a flight to Quito – even if he had to change planes at Atlanta or Houston.

Again, I’m not saying this would work: there might just conceivably be an argument that the New York Convention only protects representatives travelling from their home countries to the UN, or that it cannot be abused in this way so as to protect someone who’s otherwise a fugitive. But it’s the only thing I can think of that could work; and just the idea of Assange’s flying safely in and out of what from his viewpoint is the Lion’s mouth is too interesting to pass over in silence.

Realistically? I expect a prolonged stand-off and still, one day, finally, a flight to Stockholm. But you never know with Assange.


A longer version of this article is at Head of Legal

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About the author
Carl Gardner is a barrister, and worked as a government lawyer for twelve years. He blogs mostly at Head of Legal
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Reader comments


I’m not sure Assange would want to fly to New York. Isn’t avoiding going there the reason for him being in the Ecuador embassy in the first place?

I have a brilliant two point plan to thwart his plans AND provide a long term solution…

First, invite all the staff to leave the building, with the offer of a far better appointed replacement embassy.

Then, brick the current premises up, with their guest inside. Leave a hatch for food.

Leave for twenty years.

This solves the immediate problem whilst also putting no additional strain on existing prison accommodation. It even saves a taxi.

Interesting article. I know you’re just putting it out there as a theoretical option but there is no way Assange will set foot on US territory voluntarily.

No matter what legal protections might exist, nor how clear or otherwise they are, the US justice system is more than capable of ignoring law.

For example, Bush’s wiretapping of American citizens was clearly illegal but no-one has been prosecuted and the telecoms companies that colluded have been retroactively immunised by the legislature.

4. Shatterface

I can’t see anyone appointing him as a courier, let alone an ambassador.

There’s no sanity in putting him in charge of confidential documents when he’s likely to open them, scan the them, and post their contents on the internet.

Christine,

An interesting thought! In all seriousness, the UK could break off diplomatic relations and shut down the embassy – as it did in the case of the “Libyan People’s Bureau” in 1984. Everyone would then have to leave, or if Assange stayed police could enter once the embassy had closed.

Not a real possibility here, but conceivable I think if someone like Bin Laden one day took refuge in the embassy of a hostile country.

Shatterface,

They wouldn’t have to put him in charge of confidential documents. If he were courier, there could be one blank post-it note inside the diplomatic bag.

He should get his camera out and make films like Roman Polanski – a sure way to endear himself further to wooly-minded folk who support his every move.

Anyway, who cares about rape? Not everyone here obviously.

As Whoopi Goldberg said when referring to Polanski “It wasn’t rape rape”. So with Assange how he shafts his employees is fine as long as he shafts American interests.

He should go to Sweden and show the charges for what they are instead of running away like a scared cat.

Poor bloody Ecuadorian diplomats – can you think of the person you would least like to have in your embassy? The very embodiment of a Trojan horse.

I favour escape in a hot air balloon.

Good article.

More problematic still, Assange would have to get into any car somehow before being arrested on the pavement.

Are we saying we have to have police outside the embassy for ever?

To arrest someone who has breached bail conditions?

And what would they do if someone walked out the front door of the embassy wearing a burka?

Go for it Julian!!!!

I don’t understand why he never just hired a yacht and sailed off into the sunset.

If people can be smuggled into the United Kingdom it must be even easier to sneak your way out.

It’s always priceless watching the right wing fake libertarian trolls cheer on their hated state apparatus arresting someone who’s leaked the states dirty secrets.

You couldn’t make up.

12. Shatterface

As Whoopi Goldberg said when referring to Polanski “It wasn’t rape rape”. So with Assange how he shafts his employees is fine as long as he shafts American interests.

I missed Assange’s trial – was it televised?

Assange should face the charges against him. These should be judged on the evidence.

In the meantime I’d like to hear less paranoia from one side of the argument, and less lynch mob mentality from the other.

Carl’s escape solutions all seem a bit elaborate. Why not hair and stubble dyed black, dark glasses and army fatigues? Then he could pose as the Ecuadorian ambassador’s bodyguard.

14. Tangled Webs

It strikes me that much of this is predicated on Assange getting Ecuadorian citizenship – problem. If he is an Ecuadorian citizen, the Ecuadorians cannot then give him assylum – a country cannot grant political assylum to its own citizens.

Ecuador has an extradition treaty with the US – I believe the US could simply extradite him from Ecuador in the usual way. Even if this were not the case, the US’s tentacles in Ecuador mean that this country would probably be about as unsafe a place as Assange could possibly find – he’d be far safer in a Swedish nick.

15. Robin Levett

@Shatterface #12:

Assange should face the charges against him. These should be judged on the evidence.

Agreed entirely.

In the meantime I’d like to hear less paranoia from one side of the argument, and less lynch mob mentality from the other.

Kojak does have something of a point; although he arguably overstates it. The argument from a number of the Assangistas on these threads has indeed been that on the complainant’s own account it wasn’t really rape; because they were never *explicitly* non-consenting. Quite apart from the fact that that position is at odds both with the law and the usual position taken on this forum; it is indicative of the fact that, because they think Assange’s continued freedom is a greater good than the prosecution of the charges against him, they are downplaying and minimising the seriousness of those charges. It is similar to the attitude towards Polanski’s proven crimes amongst many of the glitterati.

@Tangled Webs:

I’m not sure it is all predicated on his becoming Ecuadorian – he might have to become one to be a diplomatic courier, but I don’t think it’s clear he’d have to in order to become UN representative.

But in any case the asylum point is ultimately a red herring, I think. If he is granted asylum, then as I say above, it doesn’t follow that he’s free from arrest in the UK. If he’s not granted asylum, he’s not free from arrest. So asylum doesn’t matter. If he wants to get out without being arrested, he needs I think to bring himself within some other immunity.

17. Planeshift

“he’d be far safer in a Swedish nick.”

He’d probably even have access to computers in a swedish nick. I’ve honestly throughout this whole thing failed to see why the UK is safer for him than Sweden – even if found guilty the Swedish courts tend to be more lenient than most.

Why would Ecuador risk its diplomatic and political ties with the UK and Sweden over this weirdo?

Could we just stop thinking of Sweden as a brutal police state?
It is SWEDEN, this model of social-democracy in Europe.

I think the best option would be to hire 100 people, dress them all as assange and let them all burst out at once of the embassy, screaming, running in circles.
finally, they would all hire a cab to the nearest private jet.

Correa could visit the embassy and Assange could dress up as him and leave the building.

After a day or two, Correa would leave the building dressed as Assange.

… wait, that didn’t make much sense.

21. Charlieman

Teleporter or Tardis?

The point within Carl Gardner’s OP is that the game is up. Sooner or later, Assange is going to Sweden to face the charges that he has dodged.

Which will simplify the tin foil header argument. Only one country, Sweden, could be asked to extradite him; if Assange was a genuine victim of persecution, the USA might have asked for him from the UK where he now resides. Alas the tin foil heads are foiled; owing to the Swedish requests, Assange should go to Sweden to answer questions about personal behaviour; to answer questions.

in order to be extradited Assange must be demonstrated to have broken

22. Andrew Edwin

For those who believe Sweden to be a model of social democracy, consider the case of these men: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repatriation_of_Ahmed_Agiza_and_Muhammad_al-Zery

23. Charlieman

@22. Andrew Edwin: “For those who believe Sweden to be a model of social democracy, consider the case of these men: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repatriation_of_Ahmed_Agiza_and_Muhammad_al-Zery

You failed to read beyond the first three paragraphs in that link. It says: “This handling was later condemned and found illegal by the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman.”

This is also the consideration of extra-judicial procedure procedure. It was an act of secret services acting with another country to bounce people onto a plane. It is thoroughly immoral and unsupportable.

For any country to apply that to Assange would be ridiculous. The Man in the White Hair is internationally recognised and he will continue to infuriate and bore us.

I favour 1000 anonymous going in in Assange disguise, then a different 1000 coming out. Or a fireman’s chute from the building into a diplomatic vehicle’s sunroof. Then straight through the chunnel. A few days in the basque region…

“First, is there such a car at all?” have you ever, ever known an embassy not to have an official car?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/Dj3k4OS7

  2. BMetAlevelPolitics

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/Dj3k4OS7

  3. sunny hundal

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  4. Tania

    … and as an aside to that blog post, an interesting read from @carlgardner http://t.co/YCOaIOP0 (ht @sunny_hundal)

  5. robwinder

    Smuggled out in a diplomatic bag? RT @sunny_hundal: the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/06VLsQPu by @carlgardner

  6. Carl Gardner

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  7. Hayley Moseley

    RT @sunny_hundal: 'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/2MSrJUXP < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  8. Hugh Mouser

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  9. Martin Shovel

    RT @sunny_hundal: 'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/a9xuW8et < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  10. Paul Cutler

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  11. mr_ceebs

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/gRb5DtZb via @libcon

  12. Lucy Reed

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  13. Natalie Marchant

    RT @sunny_hundal: 'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/NH1Mutp2 &lt; intriguing post by @carlgardner

  14. Chris Wallace

    Intriguing post on how the only answer for Assange might be for Ecuador to name him a UN representative http://t.co/GuI1kGQV

  15. Alex Parsons

    This could have made for an entertaining West Wing subplot – Ways Assange could leave UK by @carlgardner http://t.co/RLn9kbj7

  16. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/cZxaKwiw

  17. Adam White

    .@carlgardner is hilarious and ingenious on how Assange could smuggle himself out of Britain http://t.co/91NJr86p

  18. Jason Brickley

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/YxV1IO71

  19. Caroline Crampton

    .@carlgardner is hilarious and ingenious on how Assange could smuggle himself out of Britain http://t.co/91NJr86p

  20. saabrinaaa3

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/cwi9lA8o &lt; very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  21. Yair Love

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/PjMhuWqL &lt; very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  22. Tempusfugit

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/Dj3k4OS7

  23. loveyoug1

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/mShSk3sZ &lt; very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  24. Sean Hughes

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  25. Carl Gardner

    @pcutler On diplomatic status – have a read of my piece! http://t.co/uWkLMgG3 @sunny_hundal

  26. John Doolan

    How could Julian Assange get out of the Ecuadorian Embassy with being arrested? Fascinating article:
    http://t.co/BwMNODCY

  27. Jonathan Davis

    Some of the absurdities in this piece amused me: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – http://t.co/vka05q6B

  28. Michael Curry

    Some of the absurdities in this piece amused me: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – http://t.co/vka05q6B

  29. Julian Assange: can he get out of this? | Head of Legal

    [...] edited version of this post first appeared at Liberal [...]

  30. WB

    @sunny_hundal 'ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/Y7Y9hbr3 @carlgardner |To this soundtrack http://t.co/AZcIspR9 : )

  31. AJ

    Ways for Julian #Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/kHcP5Qab

  32. sunny hundal

    Some of the absurdities in this piece amused me: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – http://t.co/vka05q6B

  33. BevR

    Some of the absurdities in this piece amused me: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – http://t.co/vka05q6B

  34. Salil Tripathi

    This would be funny if it weren't plausible for Assange to try one of the options: http://t.co/Tve6bpou

  35. Nick Herd

    Some of the absurdities in this piece amused me: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – http://t.co/vka05q6B

  36. Jpie

    'Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain' http://t.co/jMP5njhM < very intriguing post by @carlgardner

  37. Gods & Monsters

    Some of the absurdities in this piece amused me: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – http://t.co/vka05q6B

  38. sunny hundal

    ICYMI yesterday, 'How Julian Assange could escape from Britain to Ecuador' http://t.co/jMP5njhM by @carlgardner

  39. Geoff Walker

    ICYMI yesterday, 'How Julian Assange could escape from Britain to Ecuador' http://t.co/jMP5njhM by @carlgardner

  40. Richard Alexandar

    RT @libcon: Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain http://t.co/SgLVNjlS

  41. BevR

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/UmzoIfgz via @libcon

  42. belgiumbrit

    @ShoebridgeC Interesting article regarding Assanges exit from Ecuador Embassy. http://t.co/B8eMaAVi

  43. per sunan

    V interesting "@sunny_hundal: ICYMI y'day, 'How Julian Assange could escape from Britain to Ecuador' http://t.co/QftOxdDR by @carlgardner"

  44. Noxi

    RT @sunny_hundal: ICYMI yesterday, 'How Julian Assange could escape from Britain to Ecuador' http://t.co/H9LCUJhV by @carlgardner

  45. Mohadesa

    All the ways in which Julian Assange could escape Britain- One of them in a diplomacy bag http://t.co/5ROrz5PT

  46. Jonathan Davis

    @Siouxfire Absolutely! There's no real chance of him getting to Ecuador anyway: http://t.co/vka05q6B

  47. Stuart Woodward

    Means by which Julian Assange could leave the Ecuadorian Embassy without being arrested: http://t.co/srVZwWza

  48. Keith Saunders

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/oYQIYEbS via @libcon

  49. Stephanie Brooke

    Could Julian Assange escape from London as the UN Representative for Ecuador ? http://t.co/V4J87aih

  50. ianpatterson99

    Could Julian Assange escape from London as the UN Representative for Ecuador ? http://t.co/V4J87aih

  51. Paul Baldovin

    Could Julian Assange escape from London as the UN Representative for Ecuador ? http://t.co/V4J87aih

  52. Lilly Hunter

    Could Julian Assange escape from London as the UN Representative for Ecuador ? http://t.co/V4J87aih

  53. Calum Macdonald

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain – so many risky legal options.. http://t.co/IbfejFYj

  54. Jonathan Davis

    Reading this piece by Carl Gardner, there don't seem to be many options for getting Assange out of the country anyway: http://t.co/vka05q6B

  55. Myz Lilith

    From a couple of months ago: interesting speculation on how Ecuador could legally(?) get Julian Assange out of the UK http://t.co/8YQAgNLB

  56. Mr Kongsdal

    @haakon_d @jonwesselaas Her er en fiffig vei ut for #Assange: Oppnevn ham til representant for Ecuador i FN: http://t.co/zrtcT11j

  57. Pedicura

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/riw1DIUp via @libcon

  58. Aidan

    This is fun – all the ways Assange could potentially leave the embassy, including as an Ecuadoran UN representative: http://t.co/Rjs3rWSp

  59. John Rentoul

    PS, a fun but informative post earlier by @carlgardner on how Julian Assange could escape the embassy out of the UK http://t.co/hVq5JZ2Z

  60. Michael Anthony

    '@sunny_hundal:
    An informative post by '@carlgardner on how Julian Assange could escape the embassy out of the UK
    http://t.co/GKX30FmD

  61. Emanuel Stoakes

    '@sunny_hundal:
    An informative post by '@carlgardner on how Julian Assange could escape the embassy out of the UK
    http://t.co/GKX30FmD

  62. Nathalie Molina Niño

    One person's unlikely list of options for #Assange. All seem highly improbable…. http://t.co/X08KFZMH

  63. Charlie Bensen

    This is fun – all the ways Assange could potentially leave the embassy, including as an Ecuadoran UN representative: http://t.co/Rjs3rWSp

  64. MankiniTehPantsless

    PS, a fun but informative post earlier by @carlgardner on how Julian Assange could escape the embassy out of the UK http://t.co/hVq5JZ2Z

  65. Shan

    MT @apmd: All the ways Assange could potentially leave the embassy, including as an Ecuadoran UN representative: http://t.co/gUjMNOv9

  66. Martin Mielke

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/DvEN2C1A via @libcon

  67. Martin Mielke

    Here are the ways Julian Assange could escape from Britain | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/DvEN2C1A via @libcon

  68. Horst Kapfenberger

    How to escape the british embassy? Here are some ways… http://t.co/3xeBwgNf





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