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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Embassy awash in diplomatic debris

After years of reported quarrels with its landlord, the Embassy of Pakistan in Norway has moved out of the stately old home it leased in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district for the past 25 years. The embassy reportedly left behind thousands of passports, visa applications and other documents along with trash and alleged damage to the house, and is now accused of misusing its diplomatic immunity. Pakistan’s ambassador flatly denies the claims.

The Embassy of Palistand has moved out of this building in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district in the midst of major disagreements with its owner. PHOTO: Embassy of Pakistan

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Monday on what appears to be a lack of diplomacy and good relations between embassy officials over the years and Mukarram Sattar, who owns the house on Eckersbergs Gate in Frogner that served as the embassy’s former location. Sattar, who runs the Oslo-based Nordic Trademann AS real estate and rentals firm, told Aftenposten he had  “wanted to help Pakistan with a building where they could establish an embassy.” He claimed he most recently rented the entire property to the embassy, which has served as a gathering place for Norway’s Pakistani community, for NOK 40,000 (USD 5,000) a month with the agreement that the embassy was responsible for interior maintenance while he took care of exterior maintenance.

Years of quarreling over rental rates and maintenance, however, ultimately landed in court, where the embassy was ordered to pay nearly NOK 300,000 in unpaid rental charges. The embassy reportedlyy countersued, with Mukarram ordered to carry out maintenance including new windows, new carpets and repairs for dry rot.

Aftenposten reported that the two sides ultimately agreed that the embassy should move out by August 15, continue to make monthly rental payments until then, remove all interior content and leave the property in good order. Sattar claims that did not occur.

“We got a shock,” Sattar’s lawyer, Muhammad Nadeem, told Aftenposten. He claimed there was extensive damage inside the embassy and “large quantities of old furniture, garbage and thousands of passports, visa applications and other confidential diplomatic papers” left behind. He and Sattar claim the embassy was asked to come and collect all the passports (turned in by Pakistani residents who became Norwegian citizens) and other diplomatic papers by October 13 but that didn’t occur either. Aftenposten took photos of the piles of old passports, and found letters from Norwegian police departments and sacks marked “diplomatic post” inside the building. Sattar now claims it will cost NOK 5.1 million to clean up the building and renovate it to an “acceptable” standard.

Ambassador objects
Pakistan’s ambassador to Norway, Riffat Masood, has a different version of the dispute. “We don’t owe a thing,” Masood told Aftenposten. She claimed the embassy “had problems” with Mukarram “for many years” and that he’s the one who has not fulfilled his maintenance obligations “and now wants more money.” She’s thus invoking diplomatic immunity and refusing to pay.

Massood also claims she and her staff have upheld their part of the bargain. She told Aftenposten the embassy asked its lawyer to advise Sattar of the embassy’s move (to Hovfaret 13 in Oslo’s Hoff district), and claims the embassy moved within the deadlne “but we forgot a room in the attic.” She claimed the passports left behind couldn’t be used for any purpose and that Sattar had offered to destroy them.

Ministry in the middle
Caught in the middle is Norway’s foreign ministry, which doesn’t want to get involved in the dispute between landlord and tenant. Ministry spokesperson Guri Solberg told Aftenposten that state- and diplomatic immunity “limits Norwegian authorities’ ability to enforce demands made of foreign diplomatic representation in Norway.”

She said the ministry can only “have meetings with embassies and remind them of their duty to follow their own diplomatic obligations,” including Article 41 of the Vienna Convention that foreign embassies and diplomatics are obligated to follow local laws (including court verdicts) even though they enjoy immunity. Berglund



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