PM wants diplomatic immunity waived

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand formally asked that a diplomat facing sexual assault charges waive diplomatic immunity, but was rebuffed.

The diplomat has fled the country after allegedly committing a sexual assault.

If he returned to New Zealand at any time he could face prosecution for the alleged offences.

"We expect this diplomat to face consequences for his actions," Key told his regular post-Cabinet media conference this afternoon, but added that as a signatory to the Vienna Convention New Zealand had no option but to allow the man to go free.

The Government had tested the suppression order and concluded it would be breached if the country the diplomat was from was named, he said.

"It was the Government's strong preference that this person be held to account in New Zealand, but this was refused by the sending country," Key said.

"As a signatory to the Vienna Convention our hands are effectively tied, but we still expect justice for the victim. We have been assured this individual will be held to account in his own country."

The relevant head of mission would be called into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) so New Zealand's feelings on the issue could be made clear.

This is a lower-level sanction than being called in to face the foreign minister and as the name of the country involved is suppressed, there will be little diplomatic embarrassment.


Key said there were complicating elements in the case that he couldn't discuss.

"There's lots of sort of complications behind the scenes in this that I can't really go into, but if the person was in New Zealand, and if there hadn't been diplomatic immunity, then that person would have been held to account and gone through a process in New Zealand," he said.

He hoped the incident would not harm relations with the sending country.

Asked why the head of mission was only being called in now, more than a month after the alleged incident took place, Key said there had been ongoing contact.

"There's been a series of meetings held at a variety of different levels with MFAT in New Zealand and the representatives of the sending country," he said.

"I'm led to believe, and I strongly accept that advice, that the host country is absolutely aware at a very senior level about New Zealand's expectations and how seriously we're taking the issue."

Asked if the New Zealand Government would be seeking to challenge the suppression order, Key said he had not sought advice on the matter.


Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said the public needed to be reassured that the matter would not be "swept under the carpet and forgotten about".

He called for the diplomat's extradition back to New Zealand.

The Vienna Convention for diplomatic immunity ensures diplomats are given safe passage and are not subject to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country's laws.

They can still be expelled, however.

McCully said New Zealand would always seek a waiver to diplomatic immunity in cases where a diplomat was accused of a serious crime.


Foreign diplomats are not subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities.

It was designed to ensure diplomatic personnel were able to perform their duties with freedom, independence and security without interference from the host government.

The exact immunities granted to an individual depend on his or her role within the post, but in general terms key aspects of diplomatic privileges and immunities include:

- Diplomatic personnel may not be arrested, detained or prosecuted for breach of local laws, and cannot be required to appear in court as witnesses.

- Police and other government officials cannot enter embassy premises or the residences of diplomatic personnel.

- Communications between an embassy and its home government cannot be interfered with.

- Diplomatic personnel are exempt from certain local taxes, such as income tax.

A diplomat's home government can decide to waive immunity where a diplomat has committed an offence, or may decide to take its own actions against the offender.

In this case the diplomat's home country did not choose to waive the immunity.