New Zealand admits Malaysian diplomat in sex attack row was advised to leave country
Wellington embarrassed by revelations it suggested Muhammad Rizalman return to Malaysia in the first place
New Zealand’s foreign minister said on Thursday that his own officials misled him about delicate discussions with Kuala Lumpur over the fate of a Malaysian diplomat accused of attempted rape in Wellington.
The accused envoy, Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, caused a storm when it emerged that he left New Zealand after invoking diplomatic immunity, with Prime Minister John Key weighing in to condemn his departure.
Malaysia on Wednesday agreed to send Muhammad Rizalman back to Wellington, but New Zealand officials have been left red-faced by revelations that they were the ones who suggested he leave in the first place.
“If you think I’m thrilled about the performance of the ministry on this matter, you’re seriously mistaken,” Foreign Minister Murray McCully told Radio New Zealand.
“If you think I’m happy about being misled, and in turn misleading the prime minister, about the position adopted by the New Zealand government, then you’re very seriously mistaken.”
Muhammad Rizalman appeared in a New Zealand court on May 10 accused of stalking a 21-year-old woman the previous night and attacking her at her home in the same Wellington suburb where Malaysia’s high commission is located.
Police charged him with burglary and assault with intent to commit rape – both offences that carry jail terms of up to 10 years.
The arrest sparked talks between the two countries as the Vienna Convention prevents diplomats from being arrested or detained in host countries for any crime.
When news of Muhammad Rizalman’s departure broke, New Zealand said it was powerless to try him because the diplomat’s home country ordered him out of Wellington after refusing to waive his immunity.
In an unusual move, the foreign affairs ministry released correspondence to back its case, in which the Malaysian high commission said it would not waive immunity and wanted the charges dropped and case files sealed.
However, McCully this week revealed that the Malaysians were acting on suggestions offered by New Zealand foreign affairs officials during informal discussions on how to deal with the matter.
McCully said he and the prime minister had not known about talks when they criticised the diplomat’s home nation.
He said the option of sending Muhammad Rizalman home should have never been put on the table, and he would find out who was behind the mix-up.
“I intend to see that this matter is followed through and those who are responsible are held to account,” he said.