Strauss-Kahn's Case for Diplomatic Immunity

Legal experts debate whether or not he is protected

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As the sexual assault charges stack up against IMF head Dominque Strauss-Kahn, and the political and economic communities tabulate their losses, one of the major legal questions that has been raised is whether Strauss-Kahn's position with the IMF might afford him some form of diplomatic immunity. New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity, Reuters reports, but he did not elaborate on why he believes diplomatic immunity does not apply. Thus the issue is ripe for some legal speculation.

Under the IMF's Articles of Agreement, employees are granted a limited form of diplomatic immunity, the so-called "official acts" immunity, for actions related to activities performed in the course of their work for the Fund. International law expert Kurt Taylor Gaubatz was doubtful that this type of immunity would apply here:

Acts immunity only covers actions taken in the course of his duties. Coming out of your bathroom stark naked and attacking a chambermaid probably doesn't qualify.

However, "official acts" immunity, as Duncan Hollis explains at Opinio Juris, is different from "diplomatic immunity," which makes diplomats "absolutely immune in almost all cases from criminal arrest or civil suit." Diplomatic immunity is far more protective. And as the IMF is a specialized agency of the United Nations, diplomatic immunity might apply to IMF members. From the U.N.'s “Headquarters Agreement” with the U.S., Article 15 provides that:

[P]rincipal resident representatives of members of a specialized agency... shall... be entitled in the territory of the United States to the same privileges and immunities... as it accords to diplomatic envoys accredited to it.

Still, Hollis doubts this will do the trick.

I’m guessing he does not qualify because he’s not representing anyone other than the IMF as its Managing Director.  But that creates the rather odd result that a lesser IMF official might have absolute/diplomatic immunity denied to the titular head of the IMF...

Brian Glow at Reuters suggests that Strauss-Kahn could still try to leverage his status as a quasi-diplomat by applying the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, which grant broad immunity from prosecution to diplomats serving in foreign countries. While this law does not immunize a diplomat from actions "outside his official function," it can be interpreted pretty broadly. For example:

[O]n April 26, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington threw out a case alleging that Lebanese Ambassador Antoine Chedid and his wife underpaid and verbally abused their maid. His decision relied, in part, on a State Department filing in a separate case, which found that hiring household workers for assistance during diplomatic service is covered by the Vienna Convention's immunity provisions.

In any event, the Telegraph hypothesizes that Strauss-Kahn will not have much assistance from either the IMF or his political opponent Sarkozy's French government in his quest for immunity.

In a short statement, the IMF did not mention immunity and referred inquiries to Mr Strauss-Kahn's "personal lawyer and to the local authorities" It also appears that Nicolas Sarkozy's government is not making any attempt to protect Mr Strauss-Kahn.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.