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It turns out that in New Zealand, diplomats can get away with not paying rent:

In 2018, Eva Tvarozkova​, deputy chief of mission for the European Union (EU) Delegation to New Zealand, skipped out on paying $14,314 in rent.

The Tenancy Tribunal originally ordered that the landlord, Matthew Ryan, was entitled to that money.

However, MFAT stepped in and advised the tribunal about the diplomatic immunity issue and asked for the rehearing.

MFAT said it had tried to get the EU to waive Tvarozkova's immunity, but lawyer Peter Cullen, acting for Tvarozkova and the European Delegation, confirmed it was not waived.

(MFAT is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

Likewise, they can get away with leaving rubbish upon moving out.

Is that so in other jurisdictions too?

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  • 25
    You could have a diplomat from a different country steal the money back. Oct 19, 2023 at 11:38
  • 3
    Anecdotally, a diplomat here where I live entered a large home decor shop and started to point stuff. She somehow managed to get the entranced salespeople (who were too busy counting the eggs in the basket inside their heads) to send the invoice to her at the XYZ embassy. Delivery was immediate. The next day, they sent the invoice only to hear the diplomat had gone home with the stuff she bought. The store never saw a single dime and the salespeople celebrated with a nothingburger feast. Oct 19, 2023 at 12:27
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    @JFabianMeier that would just be retribution against the system of diplomatic immunity itself, though, and not stealing it back from the same private party who stole it or even their government employer but some poor private landlord in the reciprocal host country. Oct 19, 2023 at 14:21
  • 1
    @Seekinganswers I think the comment refers to actually stealing the money back from the same private party.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 21, 2023 at 16:23
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 lol. Good point Oct 21, 2023 at 16:26

7 Answers 7

39

Is that so in other jurisdictions too?

This is the usual rule. Similarly, there are notorious stories about diplomats in New York City running up civil parking fines of tens of thousands of dollars without paying them. (Original study).

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    – Dale M
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:05
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The case was reviewed by two independent bodies -- the NZ tenancy tribunal, and the EU body responsible for review of cases like this involving EU diplomats.

Unfortunately, the two bodies came to opposite conclusions. Real-estate disputes between landlords and tenants can be messy like that.

If the EU had determined that the diplomat really did owe rent, then she would have been compelled or the owners compensated. The case would not have ended like this. The same would be generally true about Australian and NZ diplomats. And just before this EU/NZ case, Malaysia returned a Malaysian diplomat to NZ to face court.

On the other hand, the USA retro-actively claimed diplomatic immunity and did not return an American citizen to the UK to face court. Different countries handle this differently.

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    For the Malaysia/NZ and UK/US cases you mention, could you link sources, or at least add details (e.g. names) to identify these cases more precisely? Oct 21, 2023 at 16:29
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    The UK/US case is possibly this one: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Harry_Dunn (though it wasn't a retro-active claim - the US asserted it from the beginning.) Oct 21, 2023 at 20:15
  • It is common for countries to officially know the identities of diplomates present in their country. As I understand it, she was not known to have diplomatic immunity until that was asserted after the accident.
    – david
    Oct 22, 2023 at 0:42
  • This is where the EU stated that she fulfilled all contractual obligations: eeas.europa.eu/node/48805_en Oct 26, 2023 at 4:47
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There is diplomatic immunity. You can’t take a diplomat to court for anything - unless his country revokes his immunity.

In rare cases it might be possible to shame someone into paying. If the embassy thinks it damages their reputation and therefore their country if they accept bad behaviour. Either the embassy might pay, or they might order the diplomat to pay (if he wants to remain a diplomat).

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    How does anyone still rent out to diplomats? :)
    – gerrit
    Oct 19, 2023 at 6:02
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    @gerrit fun fact: even in a situation where enforcement is unavailable or unlikely, a lot of people do pay whatever they owe.
    – fraxinus
    Oct 19, 2023 at 6:34
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    @gnasher729 If I were a landlord in that situation, I'd be asking for full payment up front for the duration of the rental contract for any future diplomatic tenants. I'm sure the embassy can afford to front the money even if the diplomat can't. Oct 19, 2023 at 9:49
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    There can also exist insurances for this purpose. When I was a student I had many Chinese friends who were students and had just arrived in Europe, and had no way to guarantee to landlords that they would not just go back to China without paying their rent (no need to be a diplomat - a European landlord is never going to be able to track down a Chine citizen in China and ask them to pay). The university offered a service kinda like an insurance where they would act as the Chinese students' guarantors.
    – Stef
    Oct 19, 2023 at 11:24
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    @gerrit it's all about appearances. Diplomats are usually sent for the purpose of maintaining or strengthening good relations between nations, to that end it's in their best interest to not get the reputation of a leech. Some things don't impact public opinion much, so they often rack up parking fines without paying them, but they can't get away with not paying rent without causing a stir.
    – Aubreal
    Oct 20, 2023 at 12:17
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In 1995, U.N. Secretary-General Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali stated that U.N. diplomats owed $7M in unpaid rent and other fees in the New York City area, with diplomats from five nations (which the L.A. Times identified as Zaire, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo) accounting for $6M of this. He stated:

Some missions had not paid rent for two years or more, and a number of residential landlords had either lost their property or were at risk of losing it because diplomatic tenants, who could not be evicted, would neither pay their rent nor leave the property.

As a consequence, it was becoming more difficult for diplomats to obtain private leases in New York. The problem gave the entire diplomatic community a bad name.

In 1992, ambassadors from what was then Zaire to the U.N. were sued by their landlords for not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent. The court of appeals ruled (767 THIRD AVENUE ASSOCIATES v. PERMANENT MISSION of The REPUBLIC OF ZAIRE to the UNITED NATIONS, 988 F.2d 295) that the Zairian ambassadors not only did not have to pay, but could not be evicted:

Enforcement of an owner's common law right to obtain possession of its premises upon the tenant's non-payment of rent may not override an established rule of international law. Nor under the guise of local concepts of fairness may a court upset international treaty provisions to which the United States is a party. The reason for this is not a blind adherence to a rule of law in an international treaty, uncaring of justice at home, but that by upsetting existing treaty relationships American diplomats abroad may well be denied lawful protection of their lives and property to which they would otherwise be entitled. That possibility weighs so heavily on the scales of justice that it militates against enforcement of the landlord's right to obtain possession of its property for rental arrears.

Reportedly, the landlords retaliated by shutting off the utilities, and eventually received a settlement from the government of Zaire.

As The Guardian reported in 2019, some countries will sell diplomatic passports to the wealthy and well-connected who want to be above the law:

“You certainly can purchase a diplomatic passport as long as you have the right access and the willingness to pay for it,” says Fred Burton, the chief security officer at Stratfor and a former agent of the US state department. “But these transactions are an abusive and fraudulent use of government bureaucracy.” Andrew Henderson, the founder of Nomad Capitalist, a company that peddles “offshore tax and lifestyle strategies”, embraces the contrarian opinion: “People hate the rich. They find vulgarity in these individuals acquiring foreign citizenship. They think government employees and campaign contributors, who have no global perspective, should be the only ambassadors. That’s nonsense.”

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    As usual, The Guardian proves itself to be a sensationalist source and they were called out on it. A diplomatic passport does not grant diplomatic immunity. In fact, a diplomatic passport is the most restrictive type of passport because it guarantees scrutiny. A diplomat must "present their credentials" to the host country, i.e. be approved, before they enter the country and enjoy diplomatic immunity. Further, permission can be revoked at any time by declaring persona non grata, forcing the person to leave. What the Guardian is trying to claim: That's nonsense.
    – user71659
    Oct 19, 2023 at 22:39
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David's answer describes the core of the issue:

Diplomats and embassies are immune to any reprisals from their host country. But they are not immune to reprisals from their own country.

Civilized countries will not let their diplomats get away with much. Uncivilized countries on the other hand...

Diplomats can be expelled, and they are always allowed to go home, but what meets them at home might be some form of punishment.

So, assume that the Norwegian ambassador to NZ kills somebody. They will not be arrested due to diplomatic immunity.

Instead NZ will ask Norway, "This person is not wanted in NZ anymore. Fetch them home ASAP."

And Norway will fetch them home ASAP. When they get to Norway, they will be arrested and tried for murder in a Norwegian court. It turns out that murder is illegal in Norway too.

In another case the ambassador to Saudi-Arabia says something that the locals consider blasphemy. They are declared unwanted and are fetched home ASAP.

In this case, however, they are not tried for anything since blasphemy is legal in Norway.

On the other hand, they have not behaved very diplomatically, and this incident may affect their career.

When it comes to unpaid bills, the basic rule stays the same. Diplomats cannot be forced to anything, except to go home.

On the other hand, the person owed can then ask the home country pay. The home country can say yes or no. If they say no, there is not much the creditor can do about it.

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    A Norwegian court would not have jurisdiction over a crime committed in New Zealand. Nor could it investigate a crime there or get any witness to testify, without the cooperation of New Zealand.
    – Davislor
    Oct 19, 2023 at 12:52
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    There are at least two diplomats who have successfully invoked diplomatic immunity after being charged with murder: Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk, one of several men who fired submachine gun from the window of the Libyan Embassy in London and killed policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, and W.K.H. Sao Boonwaat, the ambassador from what is now Myanmar to Sri Lanka in 1967, W.K.H. Sao Boonwaat, was recalled after being accused of murdering his wife.
    – Davislor
    Oct 19, 2023 at 13:10
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    Not a diplomat but the wife of a US diplomat claimed diplomatic immunity when she killed someone through reckless driving. Though she initially fled back home she was eventually tried in the UK (country the crime was committed in) where the jurisdiction lay rather than being tried in the home country as you imply would happen. Oct 19, 2023 at 13:39
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    @Davislor a Norwegian court would be free to decide if it has jurisdiction. There are some times when they decide to do so even if the crime did happen outside the country.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 19, 2023 at 14:14
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    But then Germany might not bring a murderer diplomat back to Germany if they can’t be prosecuted. They might even remove immunity and extradite them.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 19, 2023 at 20:02
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Diplomats can break any law without being prosecuted for the crime.

The host country can however expel a diplomat.

But doing so is a very strong signal that usually damages the relations between the two countries.

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    Not quite - they can break any law and potentially avoid prosecution. The host country is at liberty to (and occasionally does) approach the leader of the mission, i.e. "The Ambassador" and request that a specific individual is released into custody. If the two nations are indeed friendly, and the circumstances are reasonable, then this will happen, and the (now) ex-diplomat will face the normal legal process.
    – MikeB
    Oct 20, 2023 at 15:24
  • That can happen, but how often does it in practice? It is basically the same as requesting to fire a diplomat. Can hardly be done particularly often over some minor issue. Oct 20, 2023 at 15:37
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Russia taken to court for unpaid rent - owes millions

The Russian state has become a case for the Stockholm district court. It is the property owner behind the "Russian house" on Lidingö who is suing Russia for roughly 16 million for non-payment of rent.

Several diplomats live in the house, some of whom are identified as Russian intelligence officers. The property owner equates their living in the house with an occupation.

  • They are spies that I house against my will. They even refuse to accept the service just like any crook who doesn't want to do justice to themselves, says lawyer Stefan Häge, one of the co-owners of the "Russian House". The property owner is now escalating the battle with a plan to force Russia to pay.

https://www.lipstickalley.com/threads/russia-taken-to-court-for-unpaid-rent-owes-millions.5288242/

The plan to force the Russians to pay

Stefan Häge assumes that the Russian state does not voluntarily pay the rents that the Russians neglected to pay. But he has a plan that he hopes will force the money.

How are you going to manage to get some money?

  • If any assets come into Sweden where I can deduce that they are Russian assets, I can measure it and request seizure of the assets.

Which assets then?

  • It could be a Russian ship owned by the Russian state. Russian gas where SSAB buys and constantly tries to circumvent the rules. I'll see if I can show that the gas comes from the Russian state. Many of the companies are majority-owned by the Russian state, but where they try to hide behind other companies and schemes in other countries, says Stefan Häge.

In the past, Lidingö municipality has tried to isolate the "Russian house" and force the residents out by turning off the water and heat. But then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervened with the justification that the residents enjoy diplomatic protection.

As far as I know they have seized Russian state owned ships and planes around the world in this case. Don't know how it ended.

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  • I would wonder how far a country is responsible for the (private) actions of its diplomats.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 22, 2023 at 19:26

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