Russian claims immunity to avoid NZ bill: report

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A Russian diplomat in New Zealand was reported Saturday to have claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid paying a NZ$10,000 ($8,200) repair bill after driving a rental car into a river.

A bankruptcy resulting from the unpaid bill was thrown out this week after the High Court was made aware of the consul's right to diplomatic immunity.

The Dominion Post newspaper said Russian embassy consul-first secretary Valery Martynov had picked up a Ford Focus car from the Hertz office in the southern New Zealand city of Invercargill in April last year.

Several days later he called Hertz and said the car was "leaking and had failed", and when Hertz had the car checked a mechanic reported major damage, according to court papers quoted by the newspaper.

"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 also described the damage as being consistent with the car being involved in a deep water crossing.

When Martynov would not pay the bill, Hertz took him to a disputes tribunal which found the damage was the result of it being driven off-road by the diplomat. He was later declared bankrupt as the bill remained unpaid.

However, the bankruptcy was annulled in court this week when Martynov and a lawyer for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented letters asserting his right to diplomatic immunity.

A ministry spokesman confirmed Martynov's diplomatic status and said the fact the incident ended up in court "represented a breach of New Zealand's obligations" under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Martynov refused to be interviewed but said the story was "totally false".

© 2011 AFP

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