By Agence France-Presse
The Central African Republic (CAR) said on Tuesday that a diplomatic passport that tennis star Boris Becker claims entitles him to immunity in bankruptcy proceedings in Britain “is a fake”.
“The diplomatic passport that he has is a fake,” foreign ministry chief of staff Cherubin Mologbama told AFP.
The document’s serial number corresponded to one of a batch of “new passports that were stolen in 2014,” he said.
In addition, the passport — a copy of which has been seen by AFP, and bears the date of March 19, 2018 — does not carry the signature or the stamp of the foreign minister, Charles Armel Doubane, Mologbama said.
Becker, responding through a German magazine, insisted that he held genuine diplomatic status.
“It’s the truth. It is a fact that I am, today, a diplomat” of the CAR, he said in a filmed interview with Top Magazin Frankfurt.
On Friday, lawyers for Germany’s three-time Wimbledon champion lodged a claim in the High Court in Britain saying that he had been appointed a sports attache for the CAR to the European Union (EU) in April.
This, they argued, granted him immunity under the 1961 Vienna Diplomatic Convention on Diplomatic Relations from bankruptcy proceedings over failure to pay a long-standing debt.
“Becker’s job profile does not exist” in the CAR’s records, Mologbama said.
Furthermore, the passport says that Becker’s diplomatic function is “financial charge de mission,” a role that “has nothing to do with sporting questions,” he noted.
In April, the 50-year-old former tennis star had tweeted a picture of himself shaking hands with CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera at a meeting in Brussels.
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 (21.65 million euros) in prize money.
The CAR is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking at the very bottom of the 188 nations in the UN Development Programme’s 2016 Human Development Index.
Landlocked, rich in gold, diamonds, oil and uranium, the country of 4.6 million people has been chronically unstable since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Presidents have traditionally been surrounded by “sleazy courtesans” and “dodgy counsellors who talk loud,” French writer Jean-Pierre Tuquoi wrote in a book published last year.
Its modern history has been studded with coups, foreign mercenaries, assassination attempts, shadowy business deals and improbable figures, he says.
They include Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a former army corporal and fan of Napoleon who became president, then president for life — and finally declared himself emperor before being ousted by France in 1979 after a massacre of school children.
One of his successors, Francois Bozize, was named in a law suit filed in France in 2015 by the CAR government, which said that during his tenure, “numerous advisors and relatives… benefitted from passports of convenience” in exchange for money.
These including a Kazakh opposition figure, Mukhtar Abiazov, a female advisor to former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and an Israeli businessman, according to the suit filed by the CAR’s attorney, William Bourdon.
Bozize was overthrown in 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance, the Seleka. His elected successor, Faustin-Archange Touadera, has effective rule over only a fraction of the country as most of it is in the hands of militias.
Poor governance and a tradition of graft make for a toxic mixture, says Thierry Vircoulon, a CAR specialist at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).
“Given the authorities’ extreme weakness and corruptibility, crooks and conmen of every stripe always find a way to gain access to the president and make money,” he says. “This country is perfect for business pirates.”