New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully apologises to Prime Minister John Key over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s handling of Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman Ismail for alleged burglary and assault of a 21 years old Kiwi woman.
The New Zealand Herald story:
McCully says sorry to Key over diplomat sex case
2:04 PM Wednesday Jul 2, 2014
Crime International Politics
Murray McCully, left, and John Key.
Foreign Affairs chief executive John Allen has acknowledged his ministry bungled the case of the Malaysian diplomat accused of sexual assault.
Mr Allen said his apology to the Government was for both the shortcomings in the advice given to the Government by the ministry and 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.
“It is the long-standing policy of the New Zealand government to formally request the waiver of diplomatic immunity in such cases.”
He said the ministry initiate a review of its processes for handling such cases, and said it would likely appoint an independent reviewer.
The review would focus on two areas: the informal communication with the Malaysian High Commission which left open the possibility of a different course of action to that expected by the Government and the fact that the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not sufficiently informed of events.
Earlier today, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully apologised to Prime Minister John Key for not fully informing him about the Malaysian diplomat before Mr Key spoke publicly on the matter.
Mr McCully revealed late last night that Malaysia may have received mixed messages from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) about whether New Zealand wanted the country to waive diplomatic immunity for Muhammed Rizalman Bin Ismail, who is facing sexual assault charges.
Watch: Malaysia will extradite suspect
The minister told a press conference this morning that the MFAT had fallen short of expectations. He said a “considered process” was underway over the misunderstanding and he could not rule out job losses.
In official talks between New Zealand and Malaysian officials, MFAT clearly stated that it wanted Malaysia to waive immunity for Ismail so he could face the charges in New Zealand.
Government released the official correspondence yesterday to confirm this.
But MFAT also engaged in a series of unofficial discussions, which led to this stance becoming more “ambiguous” for Malaysian officials.
Read more: Malaysian diplomat could still be extradited
Malaysia appeared to conclude from the informal talks that New Zealand was happy for the diplomat to return home and be court martialled instead of facing the charges in New Zealand – contrary to Mr Key’s public statement.
Mr McCully said: “I told the Prime Minister that he had not been given all of the information he should have been given. And I have taken responsibility for that and apologised to him.
“The third-person note was clear and unambiguous, but some of the discussions that occurred because of the complexity of the case would have given the Malaysian officials room to draw the conclusions they did.”
This development would fuel Opposition speculation that New Zealand had done a deal with Malaysia behind closed doors.
The minister would not reveal any further detail about the informal talks, saying it could prejudice the investigation in Malaysia.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a discussion with New Zealand officials on May 12, “the New Zealand side had offered an alternative for the accused to be brought back to Malaysia”.
Asked about this, Mr McCully said: “I wouldn’t use those words. But I can understand having gone and looked at the material why his officials might have told him that.”
He had asked MFAT chief executive John Allen to look at MFAT’s actions and whether they were appropriate.
Mr Allen had been asked to investigate why Mr McCully and Mr Key were not given “more timely” information about the informal discussions.
He added: “The unseemly situation you saw yesterday when the Malaysian Foreign Minister and I were talking at odds with each other is something that should not have occurred? My own view is that it falls short of it falls short of the standards we should expect.”
Mr McCully said the victim and her family were also entitled to “a better standard of performance”.
The 21-year-old woman was not consulted by officials before the diplomat left New Zealand.
Ismail followed her home on May 9, where the assault took place. Police arrested him that night and he was charged the next day with burglary and assault with intent to rape.
Mr Key said the flow of information to ministers was “disappointing”.
But he said he would be “very surprised” if any officials found New Zealand’s stance to be “ambiguous”.
“In so much that there’s a degree of ambiguity in the correspondence, it’s correspondence attached to the issuing of a third party notice.
“And the third party notice is formal declaration that we’re asking the country to waive diplomatic immunity. So it’s a very clear statement of intent.”
Read the NZ Government’s letter to Malaysia here:
On 10 May 2014, MFAT had written to the High Commissioner of Malaysia not to invoke the personal immunity status on Rizalman so that the New Zealand authorities could continue investigations.
On 21 May 2014 the Malaysian High Commissioner to New Zealand replied that the Malaysian Government would not waive the personal immunity of Rizalman.
It is obvious that New Zealand authorities did not have enough evidence on Rizalman. And as a diplomat with immunity, Rizalman should not have been remanded as the investigation had been carried on for the past 7 weeks.
It was the right thing to do, to bring Rizalman back and place him under jurisdiction of the Armed Forces where they have the full legal authority to conduct a court martial under the Malaysian Armed Forces Act against one of their own officers, if the allegations are proven. Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman assured that the matter would not be ‘Swept under the carpet’ and gave full commitment that the case would be dealt accordingly.
As for now, the trust and tight working relationship between Wisma Putra and New Zealand MFAT is the key to resolve this matter without compromising the diplomatic immunity privileges.
The Cabinet decided this morning that WOII Rizalman Ismail would be sent back to Wellington, to face the authorities and the process to sought justice.
Press statement of Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FORMER MALAYSIAN DEFENCE STAFF ASSISTANT TO BE SENT BACK TO NEW ZEALAND TO ASSIST INVESTIGATION
The Government of Malaysia has decided to send back to New Zealand, Second Warrant Officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, former Defence Staff Assistant at the High Commission of Malaysia in Wellington, to assist in the investigation for the charges of burglary and assault with intent to commit rape. Mr. Muhammad Rizalman will be accompanied by a Senior Military Officer from the Ministry of Defence.
This decision was conveyed by YB Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs to his counterpart, the Hon. Murray McCully, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand this afternoon.
The Malaysian Government is of the view that this decision will provide an opportunity for Mr. Muhammad Rizalman to cooperate fully and assist the New Zealand authorities in the on-going investigations on the allegations made against him. In this regard, the legal principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty should apply to Mr. Muhammad Rizalman. The Government of Malaysia will provide legal assistance to Mr. Muhammad Rizalman if necessary.
Malaysia has complete faith in the New Zealand legal system and has full confidence that Mr. Muhammad Rizalman will be given fair treatment with dignity as provided under the law.
The Government of Malaysia’s decision is a clear testament of the excellent bilateral relations between Malaysia and New Zealand.
2 July 2014