KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Amid a potential diplomatic firestorm, the New Zealand government released today documents it says shows Malaysia asked it to drop a sexual assault case against its diplomat Muhammad Rizalman Ismail.
The documents were released scant hours after Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman told a news conference in Putrajaya that New Zealand officials had offered to let Muhammad Rizalman return home and face an inquiry here instead of standing trial there.
The minister had said earlier news reports claiming Muhammad Rizalman had claimed diplomatic immunity to escape the sexual assault and burglary charges were misreporting.
In its report, the New Zealand Herald cited the correspondence between New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the Malaysian High Commission, with the latter saying it would not waive Muhammad Rizalman’s diplomatic immunity.
The Malaysian High Commission also said it will recall the Wellington-based military staff assistant “as soon as possible”.
The Malaysian High Commission also asked MFAT and the New Zealand police to “kindly consider sealing all documentations pertaining to the above mentioned matter and [withdraw] all charges against Mr Muhammad Rizalman Bin Ismail”, the New Zealand Herald reported.
The High Commission also said it would ensure that Muhammad Rizalman would not step foot in New Zealand anymore.
According to New Zealand Herald, the Malaysian High Commission was replying to the MFAT, which had written that it wanted Malaysia to waive the personal immunity that was given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention.
“The New Zealand police believes it is in the public interest to prosecute these offenses due to the serious nature of the offending,” MFAT was quoted as writing to the High Commission.
Muhammad Rizalman, 38, was arrested by Kiwi police on May 9 on allegations of attempted burglary and sexual assault on a 21-year-old woman.
He was charged in a New Zealand court a day later for burglary and assault with intent to commit rape, with both charges carrying the maximum penalty of a 10-year jail term.
In its letter to the Malaysian High Commission — published along with Malaysia’s reply on the New Zealand Herald’s website — MFAT cited Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as the basis for seeking a waiver of immunity enjoyed by Muhammad Rizalman.
New Zealand’s foreign ministry stressed that it becomes the responsibility of foreign diplomats to “respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State”.
“It is on this basis and on the advice of police that the ministry seeks a waiver of immunity to allow a prosecution to proceed,” the letter, dated May 10, said.
The Malaysian High Commission replied almost two weeks later on May 21, to inform their counterparts that Muhammad Rizalman and his family would be sent home the next day without giving reasons for the decision.
“In choosing this course of action, the High Commission of Malaysia would like to assure the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand that the government of Malaysia will ensure that Mr Muhammad RIzalman Ismail does not return to New Zealand in the future,” said the diplomatic letter.
A New Zealand court had initially issued a suppression order when Muhammad Rizalman was charged for the two offences on May 10, but it was lifted earlier today amid growing outrage in the South Pacific island nation.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key today repeated his position that Muhammad Rizalman should be tried for his alleged crimes before a Kiwi court, giving his assurance he would get a fair trial and that his life would not be in danger.
“We don’t have the death penalty in New Zealand and he’ll absolutely get a free and fair trial in New Zealand.
“One thing that we can pride ourselves is having a judicial system that’s completely fair,” Key was quoted saying by New Zealand news agency Dominion Post on the website stuff.co.nz.