It seemed like an easy out: This month, after tennis superstar Boris Becker was sued over money he owes Arbuthnot Latham, a private bank, he claimed diplomatic immunity.
His lawyers said that since Becker was named the Central African Republic's “attache for sports, humanitarian, and cultural affairs in the European Union,” he can't “be subject to legal process in the courts of any country.”
But the already strange diplomatic legal affair got stranger this week when Central African Republic officials said the country has no record of Becker's job.
“The diplomatic passport that he has is a fake,” Cherubin Mologbama, chief of staff in the foreign ministry, told Agence France-Presse. He also said that “Becker's job profile does not exist.”
The diplomatic passport, a copy of which was seen by AFP, says it was issued in March. But the serial number on the passport, Mologbama said, belongs to a batch of passports that were stolen in 2014. The passport has also not been signed or stamped by the foreign minister. And it doesn't list Becker's position as sports and cultural attache but as “financial charge de mission.”
CAR Foreign Minister Charles Armel Doubane also said he never afforded Becker diplomatic status.
“Boris Becker is not an official diplomat of Central African Republic,” he said. “The president never asked me to take the appropriate steps in the case of Boris Becker.”
On top of that, about the time CAR officials made claims that seemed to indicate the passport was not valid, the country's embassy in Belgium insisted that it did indeed provide the tennis player with his travel documents. In an interview with the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the CAR ambassador to the European Union, Daniel Emery Dede, said he can “confirm that Boris Becker has a Central African diplomatic passport” but that “he meets all his expenses because we have no money to pay him.”
“He is just an attache at the embassy in Belgium to help the Central African Republic recover from its post-civil-war crisis,” he said.
What CAR wants Becker to do for the country is unclear, but the appointment certainly came at a convenient time for Becker, who earned a small fortune in prize money as a tennis player but filed for bankruptcy last year. Becker surged to fame in 1985, when at age 17 he won the Wimbledon men's singles title, becoming the first German and the youngest male player to do so.
CAR has been embroiled in conflict on and off for years. More than half a million people have fled the country as refugees, and many others are internally displaced.
Dede said that Becker has never visited CAR but that “he knows the situation there very well.”
“We count on him to introduce us to the world of businesspeople in order to receive financial support,” Dede said.
Whether Becker will qualify for diplomatic immunity remains to be seen, but photos appear to show that he met CAR President Faustin Archange Touadéra this year. And his lawyers claim that only Touadéra could lift his immunity if the British government were to request that he do so.