A Russian consul has claimed diplomatic immunity after driving a rental car into a river and refusing to pay a hefty repair bill.
A bankruptcy resulting from the unpaid bill of nearly $10,000 was thrown out this week after the High Court was made aware of the consul's right to diplomatic immunity.
While on a holiday, Russian embassy consul-first secretary Valery Martynov picked up his Ford Focus rental car at Hertz New Zealand Ltd's Invercargill branch on April 9 last year.
After several days of personal leisure activities, he called Hertz and said the car was "leaking and had failed". When Hertz had the car towed, a mechanic reported there was major damage, court papers reveal.
"Vehicle has two big holes in engine block, damage to lower radiator and oil filter and oil and coolant all up back of vehicle. Suggest vehicle has been in river and hit something then driven until stopped."
A report from an insurance assessor described the damage to the car as being consistent with being involved in a deep water crossing.
"Really abusing the vehicle. The driver or drivers had no consideration for the vehicle or the hire company."
When Mr Martynov would not pay the bill, Hertz took him to the Disputes Tribunal. The tribunal found the damage sustained to the car was as a result of it being driven off-road by Mr Martynov.
Bankruptcy proceedings were served on Mr Martynov and he was declared bankrupt in March by the High Court at Wellington.
Later, both Mr Martynov and a lawyer for the Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a letter to the Official Assignee asserting his right to diplomatic immunity.
Associate Judge David Gendall annulled his bankruptcy on Tuesday. "I am satisfied that ... the judgment debtor is a diplomatic agent who enjoys immunity from the civil jurisdiction of this court relating to the present judgment debt."
When The Dominion Post spoke to Mr Martynov yesterday, he said: "I'm a diplomatic agent so I can't give interview." Asked about the diplomatic immunity, he said he could not talk on the phone before adding: "I don't need the support of media for this. It's totally false, all this story but I received enough support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand.
"I am quite content of their attitude so it is OK."
A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs said they had been informed about the proceedings against Mr Martynov by the Russian embassy in March.
"Mr Martynov has diplomatic status approved by Mfat (as first secretary) and, therefore, diplomatic privileges and immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
"That the matter ended up in the High Court represented a breach of New Zealand's obligations under the convention."
The case was a matter between Mr Martynov and Hertz, she said.
Victoria University associate professor and international law expert Alberto Costi said all diplomats in a foreign country were subject to its laws. "However, because of the functions they are undertaking for their state there is this principle of immunity."
YOU CAN'T TOUCH US
Past examples of diplomatic immunity being exercised in New Zealand:
November 1984: Chilean diplomat Luis Felipe Lopez crosses the centre line on Old Hutt Rd and collides with an oncoming car, killing front seat passenger Sacha Macfarlane, 20. Police files revealed the crash was blamed on Mr Lopez' "gross intoxication and gross driving negligence".
Mr Lopez returns to Santiago 10 days later under diplomatic immunity.
December 1995: Japanese ambassador Sadakazu Taniguchi, out of respect for his diplomatic immunity, is not asked to undergo a breath test by police after crashing his car in Oriental Pde.
May 1997: Mexican consular attache Sergio Pichardo calls the scrutiny of diplomats in New Zealand annoying.
He was stopped by police after driving through an intersection and was asked to take a breath test. He refused, citing his diplomatic immunity.
November 1997: Colombian ambassador Hernando Barjuch is investigated by police after allegations he sexually assaulted a teenager during a screening of The Full Monty at a Lower Hutt cinema. He resigns.
March 1998: Senior French embassy official Daniel Guillaume has his car wheel-clamped and seized after racking up over $6000 of parking fines. He pays an undisclosed portion but Foreign Affairs says he has diplomatic immunity and under international law can't be made to pay.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Under Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, a diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state. They also receive immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry says there are 43 foreign diplomatic missions resident in Wellington.
- The Dominion Post