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November 13, 2019
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Malaysia asked N.Z. to drop diplomat sex attack case

WELLINGTON: Malaysia asked New Zealand to drop an attempted rape case against one of its diplomats in Wellington, promising he would never return to the country, according to documents released Wednesday.

Defence staff assistant Muhammad Rizalman Ismail appeared in a New Zealand court on May 10 accused of stalking a 21-year-old woman the previous night and attacking her at her home in the same Wellington suburb where Malaysia’s High Commission is located.

Police charged him with burglary and assault with intent to commit rape — both offences that carry jail terms of up to 10 years — but he escaped prosecution after invoking diplomatic immunity and returning to his homeland.

The case has caused uproar in New Zealand, with the government facing criticism for failing to ensure he stood trial.

In an unusual move, the government released correspondence between foreign affairs officials and the Malaysian High Commission in which the diplomatic mission refuses to waive immunity and asks that the charges be dropped and the matter kept quiet.

“The High Commission of Malaysia would like to also seek the cooperation of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand police to kindly consider sealing all documentations pertaining to the above mentioned matter and withdrawing all charges against Mr Muhammad Rizalman Ismail,” a letter from the High Commission says.

It adds: “The government of Malaysia will ensure that Mr Muhammad Rizalman Ismail does not return to New Zealand in the future.”

Muhammad Rizalman is now set to face a military court martial in Malaysia but New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he still felt he should be in the dock in the country where the alleged offences took place.

“There is absolutely no question in my mind that this individual should be tried through the New Zealand system and face his penalties, if he is found guilty, in New Zealand,” he told reporters.

Key said publicity surrounding the case would ensure it was dealt with properly in Malaysia.

“Given the high profile of the situation, I’m absolutely sure that they’ll now go through a proper process,” he said.

“The individual is a military person so there’s a court martial, let alone criminal proceedings, so let’s see how that all plays out.”

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Kuala Lumpur had offered to waive immunity in the case and it would be treated seriously by authorities in Malaysia.

“Diplomatic immunity is not a licence for Malaysian diplomats to commit crimes overseas,” he told broadcaster TVNZ.

“I take this very seriously as a foreign minister, especially in friendly countries like New Zealand.”