WORLD REGIONS

New Zealand says US invokes immunity for embassy staffer possibly involved in an incident

New Zealand authorities say they're unable to investigate an incident involving a U.S. Embassy staffer based in Wellington after the U.S. government elected to shield him by invoking diplomatic immunity.

Police said Saturday they responded to an incident in Lower Hutt near Wellington early on March 12. They said the American had left the scene before police arrived, and nobody was taken into custody. In their statement, police declined to release further details of the incident but said they're keeping the investigation open.

The day after the incident, police asked New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek a waiver of immunity from the U.S. so police could investigate the incident, according to the ministry. But the ministry said the U.S. declined that request on Friday.

The ministry said in a statement that it has now asked the U.S. Embassy to remove the man from New Zealand.

The U.S. Embassy declined requests for interviews Saturday and would not say if the man had left the country.

"As a matter of policy, we do not comment on the specifics of matters under investigation," the embassy said in a statement. "We take seriously any suggestion that our staff have fallen short of the high standards of conduct expected of U.S. government personnel. We are communicating with New Zealand authorities."

New Zealand's foreign ministry said that it makes it "clear with all diplomatic missions in New Zealand that it expects foreign diplomats to abide by New Zealand law, and to waive immunity should MFAT request it if there are allegations of serious crimes."

The ministry said that for the purposes of its policy, it defines a serious crime as one that carries a prison term of a year or more.

The U.S. Embassy in Wellington is without a permanent ambassador after Mark Gilbert, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, was recalled in January. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Candy Green has been the acting ambassador.