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Diplomat told to pay up

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المصدر: The Sydney Morning Herald
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THE Lebanese consul-general in Sydney, Robert Naoum, has had more than $1300 in savings stripped from his Australian bank account and he may have his wages from the Lebanese government ''docked'' until he pays off the legal bills he has been steadily accruing after a failed defamation case against a journalist.

 

It is believed to be the first time in Australia such action has been taken against a consular officer or foreign diplomat, and it doesn't stop there.

 

Mr Naoum may be forced to reveal publicly details of his personal finances including his income, assets, properties, cash, loans and living expenses unless he pays legal bills and costs which could now total more than $50,000.

 

His arguments that he has diplomatic immunity and so doesn't have to pay were dismissed by Local Court magistrate David Heilpern who said it would be ''grossly unfair'' as Mr Naoum had dragged Greenacre journalist Nabil Dannawi into court.

 

''This case has shown that no one is above the law in Australia. It is a shame that it had to cause the Lebanese community so much embarrassment in order to learn this,'' Mr Dannawi told The Sun-Herald. Mr Dannawi's lawyer, Rick Mitry of Mitry Lawyers, said "the court held that Mr Naoum was not acting within the scope of his immunity. There is no blanket, unimpeachable immunity. It is a precondition the consular officer be engaged in an official function''.

 

The case began in 2009 when Mr Naoum unsuccessfully took defamation action in the Supreme Court to stop Mr Dannawi's Arabic website, www.alankabout.com, from publishing material about him, which he argued was defamatory and threatened his safety. The material likened him to a mafia leader, accused him of being a Zionist supporter, a spy, hypocritical, conceited, narcissistic and possibly a bully.

 

But the court rejected his claims saying the ''unstructured and irrelevant rantings'' on Mr Dannawi's website were not defamatory and would be recognised by any objective reader as not ''emanating from an untroubled mind''.

 

Mr Naoum appealed to the NSW Court of Appeal but lost again and had costs awarded against him. In the Local Court, Mr Heilpern rejected claims by Mr Naoum's barrister that the court should grant him immunity from the debt in the interest of good relations between Australia and Lebanon and to ''prevent warfare from breaking out between Lebanon and Australia''.

 

Mr Naoum has again appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.

 

In the meantime, the Local Court not only ordered him to pay up but it has issued a garnishee order, which means that his bankers and employers have to hand over his available cash.

 

The Arab Bank has issued a cheque for $1348.84 - the total available funds in Mr Naoum's Australian account. The same order has been served on his employers through the Lebanese Embassy in Canberra.

 

Mr Naoum has been consul-general in Sydney - the second-highest ranking Lebanese official in Australia - since 2004. The highest ranking official is the ambassador, who is based in Canberra.

 

Mr Naoum's lawyer, Georges Elias, did not return calls from The Sun-Herald.

 

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/diplomat-told-to-pay-up-20101211-18th1.html#ixzz2gtrpkrwd

 

المصدر: The Sydney Morning Herald

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