- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Virginia sheriff wants the diplomatic immunity of a top United Arab Emirates Embassy official in Washington revoked after his arrest this week on felony counts of soliciting sex from an undercover officer who he thought was a 13-year-old girl.

Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said Salem Al-Mazrooei was arrested by members of the department’s Operation Blue Ridge Thunder cyber-crimes task force near a parking lot in Forest, Va., where he had arranged to meet the “teenager.”

Mr. Al-Mazrooei was detained, handcuffed and taken to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office at about 5 p.m. Wednesday. He was released after his claim of diplomatic immunity was verified.

He faces four felony counts of computer solicitation of a minor and one felony count of attempted incident liberties.

“I’ve made an official request and am waiting now for the State Department to get back to us to say whether his immunity can be revoked or rescinded because of the seriousness of the crimes,” Sheriff Brown told The Washington Times. “He shouldn’t be able to use diplomatic immunity to shield himself from this attempt to harm a child.”

State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper declined comment on the arrest.

But he said that in pending felony cases against foreign diplomats, the department usually encourages a further investigation and would ask the diplomat’s country to waive immunity if that inquiry determines that a prosecution would take place if not for the claim.

Mr. Cooper said if the diplomat’s country refuses to waive immunity, the department could order the person to be removed from the United States and issue a warrant for the diplomat’s arrest in his home country and follow normal extradition procedures.

Officials at the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington did not return calls yesterday for comment.

In 1997, Gueorgui Makharadze, a Georgian diplomat, killed a 16-year-old Kensington girl, Joviane Waltrick, in a drunken-driving collision that also injured four others. As the No. 2 official at the Georgian Embassy in Washington at the time, he also claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid being charged.

But bowing to pressure from the State and Justice departments and the public, Georgia waived immunity. Mr. Makharadze later pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault and was sentenced to seven to 21 years in prison.

He served about 31/2 years before being sent home, where he was paroled in February 2002.

Mr. Al-Mazrooei is listed as the director of the Abu Dhabi Scholarship Program Office at the UAE Embassy, where he oversees the academic affairs and the direct scholarship expenses of about 700 UAE college students in the United States.

One of his responsibilities as director is oversight of the program’s computer network and the monitoring of software programs and computer security.

Sheriff Brown said Mr. Al-Mazrooei exchanged sexually explicit e-mails with an undercover task force detective for about a month before arranging a personal meeting in Bedford County. He said the UAE official traveled the four hours from his home in Vienna, Va., to a meeting place near Forest, where he was arrested by four task force detectives.

The sheriff said that one task force investigator posing online as a 13-year-old girl was contacted by Mr. Al-Mazrooei and that the two exchanged several e-mails during a monthlong relationship. He said the UAE official thought the teenager lived in the Lynchburg, Va., area and eventually arranged for a meeting.

Sheriff Brown said task force detectives found a MapQuest printout of the meeting place on the front seat of Mr. Al-Mazrooei’s car, which had diplomatic license plates.

Mr. Al-Mazrooei immediately claimed diplomatic immunity when the officers sought to arrest him, the sheriff said, but he was handcuffed and taken into custody while his identity and immunity status were verified with the State Department. He said Mr. Al-Mazrooei was released after about two hours.

Operation Blue Ridge Thunder was established in 1998 to search for Web-prowling pedophiles on the Internet, focusing on what Sheriff Brown called “travelers” — persons willing to travel long distances and even cross state lines to have sexual relations with a child.

It is one of the nation’s more successful law-enforcement programs in what has become a newly declared war against cyber-predators and has either arrested and convicted or referred to other jurisdictions for prosecution more than 1,000 suspected predators.

Task force members made headlines in 1999 when they arrested a top aide to former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton. Tom Rice, then 59, had driven to Bedford to meet a boy, actually a deputy, with whom he had chatted online.

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