PM tells official to consider job future

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 16:58 03/07/2014

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The official who let the Malaysian Government believe New Zealand was comfortable with a diplomat accused of attempted rape going home, should consider their career options, the prime minister says.

Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, an assistant to the defence attache for the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington left New Zealand on May 22, less than a fortnight after an alleged attack on a 21-year-old woman in her Brooklyn home.

His departure came after Malaysia rebuffed an official request from New Zealand to waive Rizalman's diplomatic immunity.

Having initially claimed the New Zealand Government sent a clear message that its "strong preference" was Rizalman should face justice in New Zealand, the Government was forced to admit that informal communication meant the Government's position was more ambiguous than thought.

Although the official communication was clear on the issue, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) has since admitted informal communication between officials on both sides could have left Malaysia with the impression New Zealand would be comfortable with Rizalman facing a military tribunal at home.

Prime Minister John Key has backed both Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Mfat chief executive John Allen on the handling of the incident, but he has signalled repeatedly that he could not understand how an official could have given any sign that the position was unclear, given New Zealand's sound legal system and the seriousness of the allegations.

"If that person doesn't have clarity about that position then they need to think very strongly about whether they're in the right job," Key said, adding that the situation had added to the distress of the victim.

Key said the official had created the ambiguity.

"That led to a situation that is unacceptable to me, and I think it is very distressing for the woman," he said.

Mfat has said it would conduct an independent inquiry into the situation, which Key signalled was necessary.

"There's some important questions that need to be answered," the prime minister said.

"There certainly was no ambiguity on the side of New Zealand Government so if the ministry have individual people in their protocol division who communicated in a way other than with absolute clarity, answers need to be provided to that."

The Government has also expressed anger at the time it took for Mfat to establish that the situation was not as cut and dried as ministers were led to believe.

Allen met the Malaysian high commissioner on Monday evening and she indicated her government had taken a different message from communications with New Zealand. Only at about 5:30pm the following day did Mfat begin to properly establish the nature of the confusion.

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"There's also a lack of information," Key said.

"I was briefed on Saturday about this incident. At no point was any information given to me, or the foreign minister, that there was anything other than absolute clarity on the New Zealand side.

"That's very disappointing because I try and communicate clearly and in a straightforward and honest way with the New Zealand public, but I have to rely on the information that's given to me - and in the end that information that was given to me wasn't absolutely perfectly correct so I think the chief executive does need to get to the bottom of it."

Key had not contacted the alleged victim nor had anyone else in the Government that he knew of, but if he had he would apologise to her.

He had not contacted the Malaysian Government and did not think it would be appropriate to do so, as it would escalate the issue to an unnecessary level.

Meanwhile, police said they were working closely with Mfat and Crown Law on the legal process and logistical details to facilitate Rizalman's return to New Zealand.

"This is a unique and complex legal situation so careful planning is required and no date for his return has been set," Wellington District Police Commander Sam Hoyle said in a statement.

"Police are continuing to support the victim and have kept her up to date."

Hoyle said when someone with a warrant to arrest arrives in New Zealand they are met at the border by Police, arrested and taken to the nearest court.

"The court can then remand them in custody, release them at large or release them on bail, with or without conditions. At this time the next hearing date is also set."

Hoyle said as the matter was now before the courts it was not appropriate for police to comment further.

"We would also encourage other commentators on this matter to be very wary of the potential implications of their actions on any legal process."

The original version of this story incorrectly implied that the Prime Minister said this person would be sacked. What John Key said was that they should consider their career options.

- Stuff

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