UK

Boris Becker claims CAR diplomatic immunity in bankruptcy case

Boris Becker Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Boris Becker was awarded the international tennis hall of fame ring in April

Former tennis champion Boris Becker is claiming diplomatic immunity against an attempt to sue him.

The three-time Wimbledon winner claims his appointment as a diplomat by the Central African Republic (CAR) affords him protection from any legal claims.

Mr Becker was declared bankrupt in 2017 over money owed to private bank Arbuthnot Latham. He is now being pursued for "further assets".

The conflict-ridden CAR is one of the world's poorest countries.

It made Mr Becker a sport and culture attache to the EU in April 2018.

Mr Becker's defence has been lodged in the High Court.

His lawyers maintain he cannot be made subject to any legal process unless CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera specifically lifts his immunity at the request of the British government.

His legal team said: "This means he cannot be subject to legal process in the courts of any country for so long as he remains a recognised diplomatic agent."

The former tennis champion said the proceedings were "unjustified and unjust" and being declared bankrupt "inflicted a whole heap of damage on me".

He said he was asserting diplomatic immunity to "bring this farce to an end" and stop "the gravy train for the suits".

Mr Becker added: "I am immensely proud of my appointment [by] the Central African Republic... sport is incredibly important in Africa and is fast becoming a universal language."

His photo appears on the website of the CAR's embassy in Brussels, and a caption describes him as its attache for sport, culture and humanitarian affairs.

Image copyright CAR embassy Brussels
Image caption Mr Becker's photo on the website of the CAR embassy in Brussels

But BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams said in the CAR there appeared to be confusion over Mr Becker's role and a government official said he had not been not aware the post existed.

An Indian and a Kazakh businessman, as well as a former adviser to the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, have all at various times attempted to avoid legal action in Europe by citing diplomatic immunity from the CAR.

Central African Republic:

  • Rich in diamonds, gold, oil and uranium, but has one of the world's poorest populations
  • Unstable since independence from France in 1960; renewed crisis since rebels seized power in 2013
  • 27% of the population, 1.2m people, have fled their homes; 2m need food aid, 45% of the population
  • Government only controls the capital; 14,000 UN peacekeepers in the country
  • Life expectancy is 48 (men) and 51 (women)

More on CAR

The country where teachers have disappeared

Mr Becker was declared bankrupt after Arbuthnot Latham claimed he owed them a large sum for more than two years.

At the time, he said: "This order relates to one disputed loan which I was due to repay in full in one month's time."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBecker wins first Wimbledon aged 17

But the registrar said Mr Becker gave the impression of "a man with his head in the sand".

He has appointed Ben Emmerson QC, who has previously represented Julian Assange and Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko.

CAR presidential spokesman Albert Yaloke Mokpeme told BBC Afrique the proceedings brought against Mr Becker had nothing to do with the CAR.

The trustees handling Mr Becker's bankruptcy confirmed they had applied on 31 May for the status to continue because they did not consider he had "adequately complied" with his obligations.

They said they had been working to ascertain the size of the estate and identify assets since 2017.

In a statement, estate trustee Mark Ford from accountants Smith & Williamson said they did not believe Mr Becker's appointment as a CAR attache had a "material impact" on his bankruptcy.

What is diplomatic immunity?

BBC Reality Check

Under the 1961 Vienna Convention diplomats are - in theory - immune from prosecution in their host country.

The immunity is not just about criminal prosecution but also civil proceedings.

According to the convention: "A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction."

The convention also says that those entitled to immunity are expected to obey the law.

The Crown Prosecution Service says immunity in the UK is granted to people "who have been notified to, and accepted by, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as performing a diplomatic function".

In the UK immunity also extends to family members of diplomats (as long as they're not UK nationals).

According to the Foreign Office, around 22,500 people are currently entitled to diplomatic immunity in the UK.

This includes foreign embassy staff, their families as well as international organisations - such as the UN.

In general, if a diplomat is suspected of committing a criminal offence in the UK, the FCO says it will ask the relevant foreign government to "waive diplomatic immunity where appropriate".

Mr Becker became the first German to win Wimbledon when he did so at the age of 17 in 1985.

He won it again in 1986 and 1989 among the 64 ATP Tour titles he claimed during a 15-year career.

After his retirement he became a pundit for the BBC.

The best way to get news on the go

Download the BBC News App.

More on this story