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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Catwoman Foiled by Justice

Sometimes worlds collide, as the Byzantine and the Ottoman did with the taking of Constantinople in 1453. Sometimes, though, they just graze together and shrink from one another, as they did in London's High Court last month.


The story began last September, when a 22-year-old Latvian woman arrived at London Airport for a month-long business visit, carrying as hand-luggage her pedigree Persian cat. So far, so good, you might think. But if you know anything at all about Britain, you also know that as far as arriving pets are concerned, its immigration laws are extremely strict. The law says six months in quarantine or go back home (which, if Britain were the United States, would say much for the influence of the kennel lobby, but, since Britain is Britain, only shows that the British think Johnny Foreigner, whatever he says, is up to his knees in rabies.)


Anyway, as soon as they saw the Persian cat, the immigration folk, of course, leapt in. The 22-year old, whom they noticed was dripping in jewels, said, Oh, she had no idea about the quarantine law and she was really very sorry. But by this time the immigration lads and lassies must have had James Bond's cat-stroking enemy Ernst Blofeld firmly in mind. For they gave her what in rude company is called "a right going-over."


Everything that transpired in the course of this "going-over," I have to say, seemed only to confirm the Blofeld hypothesis. The young woman was not only dripping in jewels; she also had a chauffeured Bentley waiting outside to take her to Claridge's Hotel in central London. "Ah-ha," said the immigration folk -- Claridge's not being for your average passer-by -- "And why exactly are you staying there?" "Because work is still being done in my country house," she said. "And how much is that worth, pray tell?" they asked. "One-and-three quarter million dollars."


At this point, the woman's luggage must have become too tempting to resist. For in the High Court last month, immigration officials announced they had gone on to find in them -- in defiance of good grammar -- "enormous" receipts for gold and jewelry. "But they are easily explained," had said the young woman. She was a director of a company which rented and leased luxury cars, she said, and she earned a salary of $200,000 a year, "not uncommon in my country." It was the company which owned the house in the country, which was being fitted out for her business stopovers.


This was by no means good enough for the intrepid guardians of the ports of entry to the British way of life (whatever that is). So they went on to quiz her about her business associates. She was, they said later, "reluctant to identify the names of her colleagues." So they sent for the organized crime squad.


By this time, the young Latvian businesswoman was -- quite naturally -- distressed, especially since Dana the cat had been by now dispatched to the no-man's-land of quarantine. So she asked to stay in Britain for just a week, so she could sort out what to do with Dana. And even this was refused. The house, the chauffeured Bentley, the presence of the cat: All this, said the officials, made it plain that the young woman had arrived in Britain with no intention of doing business, but meaning to settle down.


Seven months after this incident, the matter of the cat, the jewels and the Latvian businesswomen was brought up before Mr. Justice Latham (and no, that's not his Christian name). And Mr. Justice Latham, in his wisdom, pronounced himself well pleased with the actions of Her Majesty's Immigration Service. The purchase of the $1.8 million property argued strongly against the Latvian being a bona fide visiting businesswoman, he said. And so did the fact that her chauffeur was employed full time. As for the cat, well, the cat for him absolutely clinched the matter. "Business people don't usually come with cats," he said. "It's as simple as that."


It was no use the woman's counsel pleading that the cat was her constant companion, and had already traveled to Germany, Switzerland and Kazakhstan with her. Mr. Justice Latham underwrote the immigration authorities' decision and threw the woman out of the country on her ear. And the odd thing -- are you still with me? -- is that (for once) he was probably absolutely right. For a few modest researches in Riga show that the woman seems to have been, as a businesswoman, a nobody: She was merely the secretary/lover of a man who founded and operated banks. And since her appearance in court, this gentleman appears to have disappeared from Riga with almost all of his customers' money. Not, however, one assumes, thanks to Mr. Justice Latham, to Britain. One can only say "Well done" all round.