No diplomatic immunity to Consul when consulate and private business operate in same premses, says HC

Karnatake High Court says Karuturi's Honorary Consul of Ethiopia status does not provide immunity from tax authorities and says he violated the sanctity of the consulate by carrying on his other business activities on the premises.
The Hindu | 19 November 2017

No diplomatic immunity to Consul when consulate and private business operate in same premses, says HC

by Krishnaprasad

Honorary Consul of Ethiopia in Bengaluru had moved court against summons issued by Income Tax department
Honorary Consul of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia cannot claim immunity under the provisions of the Diplomatic Relations (Vienna Convention) Act, 1972 to summons issued by the Income-Tax (I-T) authorities when the Consul also runs his private business activities in the premises of the consulate, said the Karnataka High Court.
Honorary Consul Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, who is the managing director of Bengaluru-based M/s Karuturi Global Ltd, which deals in cut roses, had questioned the actions of the I-T Department in treating the petitioner’s office as ‘camp office’ of the assistant commissioner of I-T and summoning him for recording statement before the assistant commissioner within the petitioner’s office premises itself.
It was contended on behalf of the Consul that the assistant commissioner could not have held his ‘camp office’ at the very same premises where the consular office is situated in view of the ‘sanctity attached to the Consular premises under the The Diplomatic Relations (Vienna Convention) Act, 1972’.
Section 8 of the Diplomatic Relations Act, the court noticed, imposes a restriction on a public servant or agent of the Central government or the State government or any public authority from entering the premises of the diplomatic mission for the purpose of legal process except with the consent of the Head of the Mission.
However, “the said immunity [restriction under Section 8] as such cannot be claimed by a person even though he is appointed as Honorary Consul of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, when he is carrying on his business activities also in the same premises, so long as the action is being taken under the provisions of the I-T Act or other similar enactments. His [Consul’s] other business activities has nothing to do with the consular activities carried on in the very same premises,” Justice Kothari observed.
The court also observed that, “If he himself has violated the sanctity of the consular premises by carrying on his other business activities in the same premises for which no specific permission was given to him, then he cannot claim any such immunity under the Act of 1972 of the Vienna Convention.”
The court disposed the petition with the direction that the petitioner is required to appear before the officer concerned within a month, and the I-T Department accepted this arrangement.
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