The Ambassador: Behind the scenes of the blood diamond business

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Has it always been your dream to start a career in the blood diamond business in Africa? Well, then you should watch The Ambassador and learn from Mads Brügger how it’s done.

In this documentary, Brügger, a Danish journalist and filmmaker, shows the absurd yet common practice of businessmen paying for African diplomatic credentials for the sole purpose of buying and reselling blood diamonds under diplomatic immunity — a safe trafficking strategy in the blood diamond business.

The Ambassador is not the first documentary in which Brügger has gone undercover. In The Red Chapel he went to North Korea as part of a comedian show for the purpose of documenting life in the “most evil dictatorship ever known to Mankind,”as it’s described in the film’s trailer.

For The Ambassador, Brügger needed only $150 000 to transform him into the Liberian ambassador to the Central African Republic and a businessman who, on paper, strives to open a match factory in his new home — a country with some of the world’s richest diamond mines.

The first part of the movie shows how Brügger establishes his connections to the broker trading diplomatic statuses. Then the documentary focuses on Brügger’s introduction as a new ambassador (with the country’s best interests at heart, of course). Nobody in the movie ever seems to be surprised by a Dane representing Liberia as a diplomat. This reflects how commonly this practice occurs in Africa.

Most of the documentary is filmed in the Central African Republic, where Brügger gets in contact with other diplomats, government officials and businessmen — mostly by handing out what he calls “envelopes of happiness;” in other words, bribes in high amounts. The audience gets in touch with these shady individuals through hidden cameras filming the meetings.

Soon after Brügger takes office in the Central African Republic, however, a slightly more serious undertone starts clouding the otherwise satiric atmosphere of the movie. While gradually developing cordial relationships with high-ranking government officials (thanks to his generous reputation), he is abandoned by his European and Liberian broker connections — without having yet received full diplomatic status. This is quite a precarious situation, because at the same time Brügger is about to close the deal on a batch of blood diamonds. Without diplomatic immunity, he could face tremendous penalties for being in the possession of illegal jewels. On top of that, Brügger already suspects a set-up or betrayal by almost everyone around him.

The seriousness of his situation is further accentuated when the audience learns that one of Brügger’s contacts, the head of internal security of the Central African Republic, was assassinated during the filming of the documentary.

This dark documentary is lightened only by Brügger’s naïve appearance as a carefree foreigner with a lot of money to spend and his involvement in the establishing of a match factory, which helps him to keep up the façade of being an honest diplomat who is not just interested in diamonds. This is quite ironic given the fact that he is actually a journalist posing as a fake diplomat who’s posing as a real diplomat. Brügger reveals to the audience that he feels bad for giving the local community hope of work when he knows that this factory will never be opened.

Throughout the documentary, he manages to make his audience laugh about this issue that is sad, shocking and disgusting; his antics transmit an awkward discomfort .

In 2012, the Liberian government decided to take legal action against Brügger for committing fraud and bribery when purchasing a diplomatic title. And the Dutch businessman Willem Tijssen, who is named in the documentary as the broker selling the diplomatic title to Brügger, tried unsuccessfully to stop the screening of the documentary at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.

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