NEW YORK (AP) — New York officials are trying to get a German diplomat's immunity waived to prosecute him on charges of hitting his wife in the face, and the U.S. State Department said Monday it had gotten involved in the matter.
Joachim Haubrichs hasn't been arrested or charged, due to his diplomatic protections, the Manhattan district attorney's office said in a letter Friday. But prosecutors believe there's sufficient evidence to convict him of misdemeanor assault, Executive Assistant District Attorney Nitin Savur wrote in asking a mayoral aide to contact the State Department.
In Berlin, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer declined to comment on the allegations and said he wasn't aware of any request to lift Haubrichs' immunity.
Germany's Permanent Mission to the U.N. referred questions about the matter to the Foreign Ministry, and no telephone number could immediately be found for Haubrichs' Manhattan apartment. The New York Post said he declined to comment to the newspaper Saturday.
The allegations are the latest to entangle the justice system in New York in questions of diplomatic immunity.
In 2012, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers unsuccessfully argued he was immune from a New York hotel maid's sexual assault lawsuit over an encounter he said was consensual; the suit was later settled. Strauss-Kahn didn't pursue an immunity claim in a related criminal case, which was dismissed.
In 2014, India refused to waive immunity for a New York consular official who faced federal charges of lying about her housekeeper's pay to get the woman a visa. Diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who maintained her innocence, was ordered to leave the country as the case roiled U.S.-India relations.
Haubrichs was listed as recently as June as an assistant attache at the German mission, but by Monday, the U.N.'s diplomatic list for Germany no longer included him.
His wife told police he dragged her into their bedroom Oct. 17, pushed her into a wall so she banged her head, and hit her in the face, giving her a black eye, according to prosecutors' letter. The wife, Henna Johnson, told the Post he'd gotten angry because she was using her cell phone after a 7:30 p.m. cutoff time he'd imposed.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office said it supported prosecutors' efforts to get Haubrichs' immunity waived. "The city takes domestic violence seriously," said Rosemary Boeglin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic mayor.
Diplomatic immunity, or giving foreign countries' representatives a shield against legal action, is an ancient principle meant to show respect and nurture diplomacy, and it's codified in modern laws and treaties. But diplomats accused of crimes sometimes do face charges or other consequences.
If immunity stands in the way of a criminal prosecution, the State Department can ask the diplomat's home country to waive immunity. If the answer is no and the alleged crime is serious, the diplomat generally will be kicked out of the country.
The home nation can also choose to recall the person, and sometimes to pursue him or her under its own laws.
Among German diplomats, "all our colleagues abroad have clear instructions to abide by the laws of the host country despite, or precisely because of, their diplomatic privileges and immunity," Schaefer said, stressing that he wasn't talking specifically about Haubrichs' situation. "No German diplomat abroad, or anybody with a diplomatic passport abroad ... is in any way sacrosanct or can claim for themselves that they don't have responsibility for their actions."
Klapper reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.