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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Criminal Case Facing Drunk Diplomat

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The Russian diplomat accused of killing one pedestrian and severely injuring another in a drunken driving accident in Canada could very well go unpunished.

The diplomat, Andrei Knyazev, who was sent back to Moscow on Monday, is not facing a criminal investigation, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a telephone interview.

Knyazev, 45, hit prominent Ottawa labor lawyer Catherine MacLean, 50, on Saturday, while she was walking her dog in the city's residential neighborhood. Knyazev, who was returning from an ice fishing party and was apparently drunk, lost control of his car, which jumped a curb and hit MacLean. Her friend, Catherine Dore, was seriously injured in the accident.

Canadian police immediately charged Knyazev with impaired driving, but Moscow refused Ottawa's request to lift his diplomatic immunity. Russia flew Knyazev home Monday and promised he would face an investigation here.

Yevgeny Blokhin, a driver at the Russian Embassy, also crashed his car Saturday in a separate incident, returning from the same party. Blokhin is also suspected of drunken driving and was recalled along with Knyazev.

On Tuesday, the Russian ambassador to Canada, Vitaly Churkin, issued a public apology for the incident, promising the government would not "make things easier" for Knyazev.

But so far no criminal proceedings have been initiated.

"Both of them [Knyazev and Blokhin] are in Moscow now and are under internal investigation," a ministry spokesman, who refused to give his name, said in a telephone interview. "For the time being, there is no talk of criminal investigation."

Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA and Canada Institute in Moscow, said it was unclear what the Foreign Ministry would decide, but that it would be in Russia's best interest to put Knyazev on trial.

"I don't know who Knyazev's father is — and that kind of thing has been known to make a difference in Russia," Kremenyuk told The Canadian Press. But our authorities should realize that a great deal rides on the outcome of this case. Canadians are watching us."

The case, which has gotten relatively little media attention in Moscow, has outraged Canadians.

A day after the incident, residents in the neighborhood where both MacLean's house and the Russian ambassador's residence are located held a vigil for MacLean, said Chris Waddel, a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. who also lives in the neighborhood.

Speaking by telephone Wednesday from Ottawa, Waddel said the incident has sparked a public debate in Canada over the existing principles of diplomatic immunity.

The incident has caused a public debate in Canada over diplomatic immunity.

"Most of the people here believe that immunity should not be extended to diplomats who commit transgressions unconnected with their professional duties," he said.

Under the Vienna Convention, diplomats and their families can be charged with crimes, but are immune from prosecution and civil liability.

In a similar drunken driving case in 1997, Georgia took the rare step of lifting a diplomat's immunity. A U.S. court sentenced Georgy Makharadze to seven to 21 years for causing a car crash that resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl in Washington. Last year Makharadze was sent back to Georgia to complete his sentence.

Most of the people exchanging opinions in the CBC Internet chatroom on Wednesday were appalled by Russia's decision to bring Knyazev back home instead of letting him be tried in Canada.

"Hiding behind diplomatic immunity is a cowardly act which should be ignored by the Canadian government," one of the participants wrote.

Some people have argued that being tried under Russia's harsh criminal justice system is a much greater punishment than anything Canada's "soft criminal system" could do.

But for the time being, neither Knyazev nor embassy driver Blokhin are facing such a danger.

"For the time being there is no talk of criminal investigation," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

According to Waddel, if the charges against Knyazev were proven in a Canadian court he would have faced at least five years in prison.

Under the Russian Criminal Code, Knyazev could face up to five years for MacLean's death. The fact that he was intoxicated would not have increased the sentence, said a spokesman for the Moscow traffic police. Drunken driving is an administrative, not a criminal, offense in Russia.

Knyazev apparently had a history of car accidents. Ambassador Churkin said Tuesday that in early 1999 he had officially reprimanded Knyazev after his car bumped into another vehicle. Police were not called, so it was impossible to say whether Knyazev had been drinking.

Sarah Karush contributed to this report.