The US Ambassador to New Zealand, who was accused of dodging our country's official quarantine facilities after returning from a trip to the US, says he followed the rules - and says that claims he dodged isolation are "malicious".
Scott Brown and his wife Gail decided to skip 14 days in managed isolation, instead choosing to self-isolate at their home in Lower Hutt.
The Government cannot force diplomats into managed quarantine facilities due to international immunity rules, despite strongly advising diplomats to do so.
Brown recently visited Washington where he met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, the US Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, and New Zealand's Ambassador Rosemary Banks.
Brown told Newstalk ZB's Heather Du Plessis-Allan that he did not stay in managed isolation because he was following detailed re-entry rules which had been set out for diplomats.
He said he received approval from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He and his wife got tested for Covid before he got on his flight back to New Zealand, and had voluntarily taken the border checks after arriving in New Zealand, such as the temperature check and interview.
Brown said he will also get Covid tests on day 3 and 12 of his isolation like all people in managed isolation.
The suggestion that he had "dodged" managed isolation was "malicious", he said. He was following protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.
"You know where the [US Embassy] residence is. I have 12-foot fences, gates around me, guards and cameras. Quite frankly, there is no way I'm getting out."
He refused to comment on claims from anonymous sources that his insistence on isolating at home had "raised eyebrows" at MFAT. But he said he had received no "push-back" from anyone in New Zealand.
Brown said isolating at home was also saving the Government money.
"This isn't costing the New Zealand Government a penny. We should not be a burden and be spending New Zealand citizens' dollars.
"As you know ... we had 4000 protesters after the Black Lives Matter incident, and there is a safety concern not only for me but every ambassador and to put extra resources to protect me in a hotel - it's not necessary. We have secure residence that is available for us."
Earlier, in a written statement Brown, who has close ties with President Donald Trump, said both he and his wife tested negative before leaving the US and returning to New Zealand.
"We have been very careful about wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines during transit. We were successfully screened by health authorities on arrival in Auckland and again in Wellington.
"Just like everyone else, we will be medically monitored while in isolation and tested again around day 3 and day 12. We will not leave isolation until those tests come back negative."
Brown said both the New Zealand and US governments were aware of his travel plans, and that he was in contact with MFAT and the Ministry of Health to refine rules surrounding his return.
In his written statement, Brown paid tribute to New Zealand officials for how they've handled the Covid-19 response.
"Since the beginning of this crisis, the diplomatic corps here in New Zealand has been working with MFAT and the MOH to refine Covid-related protocols.
"Frankly, New Zealand officials deserve huge kudos for how incredibly thorough they have been working with us to come up with processes that keep Kiwis safe."
He signed off on his statement, writing: "He waka eke noa. We're all in this together."
While New Zealand currently has just 122 confirmed and probable cases, the US continues to see close to 1000 Covid-related deaths each day.
The US has more than 5.7 million confirmed cases and more than 178,000 deaths from Covid-19, one of the highest death tolls in the world.
Brown's term in New Zealand hasn't been smooth sailing after there was a State Department investigation into his conduct at a Peace Corps event in Samoa in July 2017.
An official complaint was made about comments Brown had said when arriving at the event.
It concluded he should be more culturally aware.
Brown was a promising basketball star growing up before embarking on a military career where he rose to the rank of colonel.
FULL STATEMENT BY US AMBASSADOR SCOTT BROWN:
Since the beginning of this crisis, the diplomatic corps here in New Zealand has been working with MFAT and the MOH to refine Covid-related protocols. Frankly, New Zealand officials deserve huge kudos for how incredibly thorough they have been working with us to come up with processes that keep Kiwis safe.
Speaking for our Mission, US diplomatic personnel in New Zealand have voluntarily acted in accordance with New Zealand's Covid-19 guidance and, as always, the actions of our diplomatic staff have been guided by the Vienna Convention and host country laws.
Over the past few weeks I travelled to the United States for high-level meetings including with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, the US Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, and New Zealand's Ambassador Rosemary Banks.
Even before I left New Zealand, our two governments started exploring how best to manage my return to New Zealand.
I know, and I have repeatedly reminded our incoming staff, that we are guests in this country. We have, and are, voluntarily taking prudent and proactive steps to limit any chance of spreading the Covid virus. Indeed, we have actively encouraged others to do so. We do not anticipate that changing.
• The US State Department has provisioned, and paid for, testing and self-isolation facilities for all US diplomats, and their families, coming into New Zealand.
• Gail and I tested negative before we left the United States.
• We have been very careful about wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines during transit.
• We were successfully screened by health authorities on arrival in Auckland and again in Wellington.
• Just like everyone else, we will be medically monitored while in isolation and tested again around Day 3 and Day 12. We will not leave isolation until those tests come back negative.
Our Embassy and Consulate will continue to cooperatively coordinate our arrangements with the New Zealand Government.
He waka eke noa. We're all in this together