Alleged Causeway Bay assault unimaginable, says consul-general after defending decision to claim immunity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 12:00am

Vietnamese consul-general Nguyen Viet Hung yesterday vehemently denied groping a young woman in the street, although he claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution.

Mr Nguyen told the South China Morning Post: 'You have to understand my status. I'm a consul-general, a representative of my state here in Hong Kong.

'I never fulfilled this action . . . I never, because I've worked in our ministry for 20 years. I'm a top-level diplomat.'

The consul-general was released without charge after claiming diplomatic immunity following his arrest for the alleged assault in Causeway Bay on January 18. Police were called after a woman claimed Mr Nguyen had groped her bottom.

Speaking at his consular office yesterday, he said: 'Can you imagine that I would assault a woman in the street? In the Sogo street, which is a very crowded street?

'The police, of course, cannot arrest me because I have immunity . . . I refused to give any statement because I have immunity.'

Mr Nguyen, who is married, was posted to Hong Kong last October. He said he did not know if the accusation had arisen from a misunderstanding or from an attempt to damage his reputation.

When the alleged indecent assault took place at about 6pm on January 18, Mr Nguyen said he was walking from his Wan Chai office to his Causeway Bay home. 'I was walking very quickly,' he said. 'Suddenly a woman stopped me and shouted something in Chinese near the Sogo department store . . . I was so surprised.'

The woman called police on her mobile phone and Mr Nguyen was arrested and taken to Wan Chai station for questioning, a police source told the Post.

Police took a cautioned statement from Mr Nguyen before he revealed his consular status and claimed diplomatic immunity.

Mr Nguyen was set free after police called the Hong Kong Government's Protocol Division to check on his status. Officers were told to release the diplomat unconditionally.

Police are still investigating the case and a report will be sent to the Department of Justice.

According to the Vienna Convention: 'Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial except in the case of a grave crime pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authorities.'

Fellow diplomats said an indecent assault of the type of the alleged offence would be very unlikely to amount to a 'grave crime' - defined as an offence liable to five or more years in jail under the Hong Kong Consular Relations Ordinance.

Chinese University sociology professor Lau Siu-kai said the Basic Law also stipulated that the national regulations concerning diplomatic privileges and immunities applied to Hong Kong. 'However, enjoying the immunity does not mean you can commit crimes,' Professor Lau said.

He said the SAR Government could request that Vietnam relinquish the right to immunity to allow prosecution in Hong Kong.

Professor Lau said it would be difficult for the Government not to take any action after the case had been made public.

'The suspect may be innocent. But if the alleged victim insists on pursuing the case, the Government has to take action. Being answerable to the victim means being answerable to the general public,' he said.

A spokesman for the Government's Protocol Office yesterday declined to comment on the case. However, he said if any diplomat was involved in a criminal case, the SAR Government would, where appropriate, inform the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry office in the SAR.