Malaysian diplomat extradition considered

HAMISH RUTHERFORD, MICHAEL FOX AND TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 17:00 02/07/2014
LUKAS HAYWARD/Struff.co.nz

MFAT chief executive John Allen also offered his apologies to the victim.

Misinformation over Malaysian diplomat

Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail
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Police are considering an attempt to extradite a Malaysian diplomat accused of a sex crime in New Zealand.

Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail was able to leave New Zealand having invoked diplomatic immunity despite being accused of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old woman in her home.

Superintendent Sam Hoyle, the Wellington District Police Commander, said police was working to consider all options that would achieve the best outcome for the victim.

"This includes pursuing extradition and police are working with Crown Law and MFAT to establish the legal foundation for this."

This would likely take some time due to the complexities of the case and the victim would be updated regularly, he said.

Earlier, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) joined Foreign Minister Murray McCully in apologising to the victim of the alleged attempted rape.

"We apologise for a performance that was below the standard that should be expected of the foreign ministry," McCully said.

He confirmed today that he had attempted to establish who knew what about the events and when.

It emerged today he had not been told that the Malaysians had rebuffed a request for Rizalman to waive diplomatic immunity until last week, more than a month after Rizalman left New Zealand.

"To the best of my knowledge, certainly quite a number of people in the ministry were copied in [to correspondence]," McCully said.

He understood one member of his staff did receive an email about the matter "and did not open it. She was apparently travelling in a place where there was no communication capability at the time.

"Other members of my staff, who should have been copied in, were not."  

MINISTRY APOLOGISES TO VICTIM

MFAT chief executive John Allen also offered his apologies to the victim.

Allen acknowledged the turmoil suffered by the victim. He refused to say if he had offered his resignation to McCully.

He said he had been in the dark about events until Friday, six weeks after the alleged attack, but rejected suggestions that MFAT "helped the guy get away". It was a complex case, which would be investigated.

Allen did not rule out disciplinary action over the handling of the case.

It was clear that Malaysia believed invoking diplomatic immunity was a process the New Zealand government agreed with, Allen said.

That was clearly not the case. The ministry  "dropped the ball".

McCully had confidence in him and McCully was not told as a matter of course when diplomatic immunity was invoked, Allen said.

Such cases were sensitive and the tendency was to protect information. 

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... AND THE GOVERNMENT 

The ministry earlier today apologised to the Government over its handling of the diplomatic immunity case.

An independent review of the ministry's procedures was now likely.

Allen met McCully today "to acknowledge shortcomings in the advice provided by the ministry and also its management of a serious incident".

"The ministry has fallen well short of its obligations to the Government on this occasion and we take this failure very seriously," Allen said.

"It is the longstanding policy of the New Zealand Government to formally request the waiver of diplomatic immunity in such cases.

"Unfortunately, the way the ministry dealt with this issue left some ambiguity around our position - which was that the accused should face justice in New Zealand," he said.

He was initiating a review process within the ministry "to reassess our policy and procedures for handling similar situations".

This was likely to be independent, Allen said.

"The review will focus on two areas. First, informal communication with the Malaysian high commission left open the possibility of a different course of action to that expected by the New Zealand Government.

"Second, the minister was not sufficiently informed of events," Allen said.

"Pending the outcome of the review process the ministry is taking immediate steps to ensure a situation like this will not occur in the future." 

AMBIGUITY DISAPPOINTS PM

Prime Minister John Key said he was disappointed he had been misinformed about the case.

"I'm surprised that an official working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [and Trade] would have that sort of ambiguity," Key said.

"This is a very serious situation. There's a New Zealand victim. We would want that person to be tried under the New Zealand system and that's certainly the impression that we, or certainly the minister, had," Key said.

Key defended McCully and Allen, saying they had acted based on the information he had.

He was "surprised" that an official working in the protocol division of MFAT had been unclear about what New Zealand wanted.

"If there's any ambiguity in the mind of that person, I'd be very surprised why that would exist, because I think this is a very serious issue.

LABOUR: DID MCCULLY MISLEAD KEY?

Labour leader David Cunliffe refused to say whether he thought McCully should resign, saying the blame could rest elsewhere.

"On the face of it looks murky but we need to get all the facts on the table. We're calling for an independent investigation to make sure the public knows exactly what happened and then we'll assess that then."

Cunliffe said he wanted to know exactly what Key and McCully were told and when and what they did about it, and whether it was fair to blame officials.

"If the facts show that Mr McCully actively mislead the prime minister, the prime minister may well want to consider his resignation."

- Stuff

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