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Case Digest: Minucher vs. Court of Appeals – GR No. 142396

Case Title: Minucher vs. Court of Appeals,

Case Number: GR No. 142396, February 11, 2003

Doctrine/Relevant Topic: Characteristics of criminal law – General

Facts:

       In May 1986, an information for violation of Section 4 of Republic Act No. 6425, also known as the “Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972,” was filed in Pasig City’s Regional Trial Court, Branch 151, against petitioner Khosrow Minucher and one Abbas Torabian. The criminal charge stems from a “buy-bust operation” conducted by Philippine police narcotics agents at the residence of Minucher, an Iranian national, during which a quantity of heroin, a prohibited substance, was allegedly seized. The said case was later dismissed.

       Minucher later sued for damages based on Arthur Scalzo’s fabricated drug trafficking charges. Scalzo on his counterclaims that he acted in the discharge of his official duties as a lone agent of the United States Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

       Scalzo then moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity as a special agent of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. He attached to his motion a Diplomatic Note from the US Embassy to the Philippine Department of Justice, as well as a Certification from Vice Consul Donna Woodward attesting that the note is a true and faithful copy of the original. The motion to dismiss was denied by the trial court.

Issue:

       Whether or not Arthur Scalzo is indeed entitled to and covered by diplomatic immunity.

Ruling:

       Yes. Scalzo enjoys diplomatic immunity. A foreign agent operating within a territory may be shielded from suit as long as it can be established that he is acting in accordance with the sending state’s directives.

       The Philippine government’s consent or endorsement of the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s activities, on the other hand, can be deduced from the undisputed facts in the case. It includes the official communication exchanges between government agencies in the two countries, certifications from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the US Embassy, and the participation of members of the Philippine Narcotics Command in the Scalzo-directed “buy-bust operation” at Minucher’s residence

       These may be insufficient to support the latter’s “diplomatic status,” but they demonstrate that the Philippine government has given its imprimatur, if not consent, to the activities of US Drug Enforcement Agency agent Scalzo on Philippine soil. Scalzo’s job description requires him to conduct surveillance on suspected drug suppliers and, once the target is identified, to notify local law enforcement officials, who are then expected to make the arrest.

       Conducting surveillance on Minucher, later acting as the poseur-buyer during the buy-bust operation, and then becoming a key witness in Minucher’s criminal case, Scalzo can hardly be said to have acted outside the bounds of his official function or responsibilities.

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