3 Jul 2014

PM stands by McCully over diplomat

10:01 pm on 3 July 2014

Prime Minister John Key is continuing to support Murray McCully as the Opposition calls for him to resign as Foreign Affairs Minister over the Malaysian diplomat fiasco.

Murray McCully is being accused of negligence for not taking action in the seven weeks after Muhammad Rizalman was charged with attempted sexual assault and burglary offences against a 21-year-old Wellington woman in May this year.

Watch Prime Minister John Key

Mr Rizalman, a 35-year-old defence attaché at the Malaysian High Commission, is returning to New Zealand to face the charges after a botch-up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) allowed him to return to Malaysia after claiming diplomatic immunity.

Late on Wednesday, the Malaysian government said it would be sending Mr Rizalman back to New Zealand.

The Labour Party says Murray McCully wasn't proactive enough and should resign. Leader David Cunliffe told reporters on Thursday he believed the matter is embarrassing and has the potential to cause serious damage to New Zealand's international reputation.

"The mixed messages that have apparently been sent to the Malaysian government undermining our relationship with Malaysia at a time when our bid for the (UN) Security Council's right on the wire."

Mr Cunliffe said the Wellington woman concerned has been "all but ignored".

Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer said Murray McCully oversees a ministry that is dysfunctional and is trying to blame staff for what happened. He believes he should resign.

Muhammad Rizalman.

Muhammad Rizalman. Photo: FACEBOOK

"Now the Prime Minister might choose not to take it, but I think it would be the honourable thing to do, given the failure he has shown in this case."

David Shearer said Mr McCully and Mr Key should have followed up the case after their last briefing on 10 May to find out what had happened, and MFAT must be completely dysfunctional in failing to keep the minister informed about a case of such significance.

In the House on Thursday, Labour's Phil Goff asked why the Prime Minister hadn't asked for or accepted Mr McCully's resignation, calling Mr McCully negligent.

But John Key said on Thursday said he didn't believe Murray McCully should have done more, as the minister believed the process to get Mr Rizalman's diplomatic immunity waived was under way. He said Labour is just grandstanding.

"There was no reason for the minister to believe that anything occurred other than the situation that the Government had sought, through the third party notice for diplomatic immunity to be waived, and the person was going through the proper process that we would want to see take place in New Zealand."

Mr Key said Mr McCully cannot be blamed for an official making New Zealand's position on getting justice seem ambiguous - and that official should think about whether they're in the right job.

Watch Labour leader David Cunliffe

Minister defends actions

Murray McCully defended his actions on Thursday, saying it was proper for him to leave the matter to authorities at MFAT.

The minister said he was notified of Muhammad Rizalman's arrest on 10 May and informed that a waiver was being sought. He heard nothing more and took no further action until media reports at the weekend.

Murray McCully.

Murray McCully. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

He told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Thursday that was not negligence. "It's good and proper process to leave these matters to the prosecutorial authorities, the police on one hand and the consular protocol authorities."

The minister said he was confident he would be told if anything significant happened, but that wasn't the case.

Mr McCully said he had apologised to the Prime Minister, but he had not been asked to resign. He has acknowledged that the way the matter had been handled had added to the suffering of the young woman.

Unaware immunity waiver request rejected

Muhammad Rizalman was arrested on 9 May this year and charged with burglary and assault with intent to rape after allegedly following the woman home in the suburb of Brooklyn.

Malaysia rejected a New Zealand request to waive diplomatic immunity on 21 May and the following day Mr Rizalman left the country.

"I was not aware until Friday of last week that immunity had not been waived," Foreign Affairs Minister Murray said on Wednesday. "I should have been informed. I was not."

Mr McCully said when he was briefed about the case last week, he accepted what he was told - that MFAT had opposed Mr Rizalman leaving the country.

However three days later, after reading comments by Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman, he read the consular file himself and realised the Malaysians were justified in believing they had been offered some sort of proposition.

While New Zealand formally requested that Mr Rizalman's immunity be waived, Mr McCully said MFAT officials informally sent mixed messages via phone calls and emails. That led Malaysian authorities to believe it was acceptable to New Zealand for the diplomat leaving the country

Green Party MP Jan Logie said she had spoken to the 21-year-old woman who told her she was angry at how the case has been handled. Ms Logie said right from the start, the woman wanted Mr Rizalman to face charges in New Zealand and told police that.

Police working on case

Police say they are working closely with Crown Law and MFAT on the legal process regarding the diplomat's return. While no date for this has been set, police said they are continuing to support the woman and have kept her up to date.

Police said when someone with a warrant to arrest arrives in New Zealand they are met at the border by officers, 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.