Envoy criticised by Key quits

16:00, Nov 07 2014

The diplomat criticised by John Key in the wake of the Malaysian diplomatic botch-up has retired.

Mary Oliver, a longtime employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, held a leaving party for colleagues last night, sources said.

Although her departure was said to be amicable, and in recent months there were signs she had been exonerated by an official inquiry, the deputy director of protocol had effectively been told to consider her career options by Key in July, although he did not personally name her.

The unusual criticism centred on Oliver's handling of meetings with Malaysian officials back in May, after a Malaysian official, Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, was arrested on sexual-assault charges, after an alleged attack on a woman in her Wellington home.

Malaysia refused a request for Rizalman to waive diplomatic immunity but, when the events became public, Malaysia's foreign affairs minister said meetings with Mfat led its government to believe that New Zealand was comfortable with Rizalman returning to Kuala Lumpur to face justice there.

As the New Zealand Government came under attack, Key fended off criticism and said Mfat officials should have known that New Zealand would want Rizalman to face justice here and made that clear to the Malaysians.

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"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 in July.

Extradition proceedings were eventually launched and Rizalman returned in late October and has appeared in court. He faces charges of assault with intent to commit sexual violation, and burglary by remaining in a building.

Key ordered an inquiry into the incident, headed by former Treasury secretary John Whitehead, saying it had undermined the public's confidence in Mfat.

Alleged victim Tania Billingsley waived her right to name suppression before a District Court judge and publicly criticised Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully's handling of the case.

In the months following, it appeared that Oliver might have been exonerated in the inquiry, as she was spotted on the Wellington cocktail circuit at national day celebrations of several countries with embassies in Wellington.

The Dominion Post