Neighbours recall a 'weird' diplomat

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 06:35 03/07/2014
muhammad Rizalman

BEWILDERING NEIGHBOUR: Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, who neighbours say was quiet, although his wife and children were very friendly.

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A former neighbour of the Malaysian man at the centre of an attempted-rape accusation says he was "weird, a bit quiet, and very strange".

Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail was able to leave New Zealand having invoked diplomatic immunity, after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her Brooklyn home with the intention of raping her. It is understood he did not know the woman.

Sean Gordon, who lives directly behind the house Rizalman and his family occupied in Miles Cres, Newlands, said they moved in about a year ago, replacing another Malaysian family.

Gordon said he and his partner welcomed them, and bought them a plant as a gift. "We did the Kiwi neighbourly thing - it's the Kiwi way and all that."

While they did not have as good a relationship with them as they had with the previous tenants, Gordon said Rizalman's wife and children were very friendly.

But Rizalman was "weird, a bit quiet, very strange". "He was really quiet, like he always had something on his mind."

Everything had been normal until about a month ago, when Rizalman disappeared, but his wife and children remained. However, his wife refused to talk to the neighbours after that, and a week ago cars and a moving truck arrived, the house was stripped and the rest of the family left.

Gordon said the behaviour had been bewildering, but everything clicked after Rizalman was identified. He thought it was outrageous the man had been allowed to leave the country after being accused of such a serious crime, and said he should be sent back to New Zealand to face justice. "This is a guy who I had a beer with, said gidday to up on my deck. I even did all the weed-killing for him."

One of the co-owners of the property seemed surprised to learn that Rizalman had been living at the address, but refused to answer questions from The Dominion Post.

TANGLED WEB OF DIPLOMACY

May 9: Alleged burglary and attempted rape of 21-year-old New Zealand woman in her Brooklyn, Wellington home.

May 10: Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a warrant officer and official at the Malaysian High Commission, is arrested.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) formally requests on behalf of police a waiver of his immunity from prosecution granted to diplomats under the Vienna Convention.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully is informed but ministry boss John Allen is left out of the loop.

May 12: An informal discussion between officials from Mfat and Malaysian High Commission leads to Malaysia concluding that New Zealand "offered" an alternative option for Rizalman to be sent back to Malaysia to face charges.

May 21: Malaysian High Commission tells Mfat it will not waive Rizalman's immunity and asks for all charges to be dropped and all documents to be "sealed".

May 22: Rizalman and his family return to Malaysia.

June 27: McCully hears for the first time that the Malaysians rejected the request for a waiver.

Mfat chief executive John Allen hears about the case for the first time.

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June 29: Media report that a diplomat has claimed immunity and left the country. Malaysian media soon report he was one of their diplomats.

June 30: Prime Minister John Key and McCully are adamant that New Zealand is clear it opposed Rizalman leaving and wanted him tried but on legal advice say they can't name him or the country.

Malaysian high commissioner called in for grilling by Allen where she reveals "ambiguity".

July 1: Fairfax Media lawyers succeed in getting court-ordered name suppression lifted so that Rizalman and the country he represents can be named in New Zealand. McCully releases May 10 and May 21 documents showing New Zealand's unambiguous request for a waiver, and Malaysia's refusal. Hours later McCully concedes informal discussions may have created the "ambiguity" about New Zealand's position. He says Malaysia acted in good faith.

July 2: McCully apologises to Key and Allen apologises to McCully but they both refuse to say if resignations were offered.

Allen announces an independent review of Mfat's handling of the event. McCully also reveals that a junior staffer in his office was informed about Malaysia invoking diplomatic immunity but never opened the email.

- The Dominion Post

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