3 Jul 2014

Accused diplomat to return to NZ

5:26 am on 3 July 2014

The Malaysian diplomat accused of a sex crime in Wellington will return to New Zealand for trial, the Malaysian Government says.

Muhammad Rizalman, a 35-year-old defence attaché at the Malaysian High Commission, left New Zealand claiming diplomatic immunity after being charged with assault with intent to rape and burglary of a 21-year-old woman.

He was arrested in the Wellington suburb of Brooklyn and was remanded at large but on 22 May claimed diplomatic immunity and fled New Zealand with his family.

Watch Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully address the media

Muhammad Rizalman.

Muhammad Rizalman. Photo: FACEBOOK

While New Zealand formally requested that Mr Rizalman's immunity be waived, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials informally sent mixed messages via phone calls and emails. That led Malaysian authorities to believe New Zealand was okay with the diplomat leaving the country.

But late on Wednesday night, Mr McCully announced Mr Rizalman would be returning to New Zealand.

"Earlier this evening I spoke with Minister Anifah and he advised me that the Malaysian authorities will be returning the official in question to New Zealand to assist with our investigation," Mr McCully said.

"I want to convey my thanks to the Malaysian Government for this very welcome development which underlines the good faith and integrity with which they have approached this issue."

Mr McCully said neither the New Zealand nor Malaysian governments had ever intended to let the matter rest, and that there was a strong commitment to seeing justice done.

"The young woman involved has been through a great deal and the way this matter has been handled has only added to her suffering. I hope she, and her family, will welcome news that the accused will return to New Zealand so the matter can be fully investigated as was always the Government's intention," he said.

"The Malaysian authorities have offered their assistance with the ongoing investigation, and I welcome their continued involvement," he said.

"It must be noted that the accused has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and deserves the right to a fair trial."

MFAT boss apologises

Earlier on Wednesday, MFAT boss John Allen apologised to the Government for his ministry's handling of the case.

Mr McCully told reporters his ministry had let him down.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have done a significantly more straightforward job of simply pressing for the proceedings to take place in this country."

He would not say whether Mr Allen had offered to resign or whether he, as the minister responsible, would.

"I'm not ruling anything in or out. I'm going to go through a good process here to try and make sure that something that's been less tidy that I would have like is made tidy."

Mr McCully apologised to the woman involved. "The victim and her family are entitled to a better standard of performance. I think that the communication that was undertaken formally was perfectly appropriate, but it wasn't supported by unambiguous communication of the standard that I would've expected."

Mr McCully said neither he nor Prime Minister John Key had the full information when they spoke about the matter, and for that he had apologised to Mr Key.

Wellington district commander Superintendent Sam Hoyle said earlier the complexities of the case meant it would take time to work through, and that police would keep the woman concerned updated regularly.

MFAT chief executive John Allen.

MFAT chief executive John Allen. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

MFAT also apologised to the woman and her family for the bungle and is investigating officials' actions, and whether they were appropriate, as well as whether the Government was kept informed in a timely manner.

Mr Allen said he first heard Mr Rizalman had left New Zealand last Friday.

"The people in my department were working through a complex case involving complex and sensitive issues. Quite clearly, there were mistakes made. I take responsibility for those mistakes. I have apologised for those mistakes, I am now taking action to address those mistakes."

Mr Allen said the Malaysian High Commission was given the impression the diplomat could leave the country, while New Zealand's official position was that he should face charges.

"An impression unintended was left with our Malaysian colleagues that they had an option of not accepting the waiver proposition returning the diplomat to Malaysia and allowing the military tribunal to run its course."

Mr Allen would not say if he offered to resign over the matter. "What I can say to you is that the minister has expressed confidence in me in this role, and as I say confidence in the steps that we have agreed to take to ensure that the sort of situation which we find ourselves is never repeated."

Woman upset at Government

Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman a media conference on Tuesday.

Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman a media conference on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Green Party MP Jan Logie told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday she had spoken to the woman, and she was upset and angry at the New Zealand Government.

"She's been clear right from the beginning that she wanted him to stay and face the court and to have the chance to tell that story. She's just been reduced to 'the victim' when she's very clear about what she's wanted, and she's tried to communicate that to our system and just hasn't been heard."

Rape Crisis said the Government had failed to support the woman. Spokesperson Andrea Black said the alleged attacker had been supported to run away from the harm caused. Ms Black said this sent a message that victims were not important and left the person undermined. She said the woman's right to justice was paramount.

A lawyers' group in Malaysia is disgusted that its government asserted diplomatic immunity to protect Mr Rizalman. Lawyer Eric Paulsen told Checkpoint the man should be facing trial in New Zealand.

The High Commission of Malaysia in Wellington.

The High Commission of Malaysia in Wellington. Photo: AFP