Diplomat's wife caught with smuggled goods

ROMANIAN police found 1,800 cartons of smuggled cigarettes in the car of an African diplomat's wife, who claimed diplomatic immunity and refused to leave the vehicle until police smashed its windows.

The woman and her husband, a diplomat at the Congolese embassy in Belgrade, are suspected of working with a Serbian crime ring to smuggle tax-free cigarettes from Montenegro to Romania.

After a two-hour stand-off yesterday morning, officers smashed the windows and discovered the cigarettes stashed in the car, which had been altered to transport the contraband.

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The woman, identified as Esther Pascaline, and her Serbian driver were detained. Two Serb citizens, who were in another car, were also detained. Eleven Romanians are currently being questioned in connecting with the smuggling operation.

Authorities said Pascaline and her husband, Marc Marius Itela Elombola, worked for a "well-organised" Serb-led smuggling ring, which distributes cigarettes in western Romania.

Intelligence officers and anti-crime police have been tracking the car's movements for months, saying it, entered Romania twice a week from Serbia.

Montenegro was the chief cigarette smuggling hub for western Europe in the 1990s. Former president Milo Djukanovic has said smuggling helped the tiny Adriatic state survive international sanctions imposed on the ex-Yugoslav regime of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.