London (AFP) – Three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker is claiming diplomatic immunity from bankruptcy proceedings in Britain as an ambassador for the Central African Republic, he said Friday in a statement issued by his lawyers.
Lawyers for the 50-year-old tennis player, a former world number one, lodged a claim Thursday in the High Court asserting immunity after he was appointed a sports attache for the Central African Republic in April.
Becker — who won six Grand Slams in the 1980s and 90s — was declared bankrupt by a London court in June 2017 for failing to pay a long-standing debt.
But his position as attache to the European Union on sporting, cultural and humanitarian affairs could be covered by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
This means the consent of Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his counterpart in Bangui would be needed before Becker is subjected to any legal proceedings, his lawyers said.
The bankruptcy application was made by private bankers Arbuthnot Latham & Co in relation to a debt owed to them by Becker dating to 2015.
Becker, however, said: “The decision to commence bankruptcy proceedings against me was both unjustified and unjust.
“A bunch of anonymous and unaccountable bankers and bureaucrats pushed me into a completely unnecessary declaration of bankruptcy, which has inflicted a whole heap of damage on me, both commercially and professionally, and on those close to me,” he added, quoted in the statement from his lawyers.
“I have now asserted diplomatic immunity as I am in fact bound to do, in order to bring this farce to an end, so that I can start to rebuild my life.”
A spokesman for Arbuthnot, contacted by AFP in London, declined to comment.
When asked about Becker, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told a daily news briefing in Brussels on Friday: “We have neither been involved in this appointment, nor been asked for EU accreditation.
“So as concerns the role he is playing, maybe best to ask your questions to the authorities of the Central African Republic.”
Pressed on whether it was standard practice for EU accreditation to be requested when someone has been named a cultural attache, Kocijancic replied: “No, actually normal practice is for the ambassadors to get accreditation to the EU. But you know that the basis for the work is obviously the Vienna Convention, for everyone.”
– Accountability –
However, Mark Stephens, a lawyer with London-based law firm Howard Kennedy and an expert in diplomatic immunity, said Becker “should not be allowed to avoid accountability just because he has a role with the Central African Republic”.
Stephens told Britain’s Press Association: “The Vienna Convention which established diplomatic immunity was intended to protect the highest members of state — sovereigns, prime ministers, that sort of thing — not advisers to fishing organisations, say.
“What’s happened is the doors have been thrown open to diplomats and as a consequence we have got so many that will not hold the high status of diplomacy. We have to make them accountable.”
– Tangled private life –
Becker shook up the tennis world at Wimbledon in 1985 when, as an unseeded player, he became the then youngest-ever male Grand Slam champion at the age of 17, defending the trophy the following year.
The German went on to enjoy a glittering career and amassed more than $25 million in prize money.
Becker’s tangled private life has also kept him in the news.
He has a daughter conceived in a brief but now famous encounter with a Russian model who claimed she met Becker at a London bar and had sex with him in a broom cupboard at a nearby Japanese restaurant.
In January, Becker appealed for help in tracking down five missing Grand Slam trophies which he said he needed to sell to help pay off his debts.