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 could now face a military court martial in Malaysia but New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he still felt the accused 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.
Immunity no licence for crime
New Zealand police said in a statement that they were examining the possibility of applying for Muhammad Rizalman's extradition.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Kuala Lumpur had initially been prepared to offer to waive immunity but decided not to when New Zealand presented the option of returning Muhammad Rizalman home.
He said the case 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." New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the option of sending the diplomat home should have never been put on the table and apologised for his department's handling of the affair.
"The government's been poorly served and I've apologised to the prime minister for that," he told reporters.
There were calls to return the diplomat to New Zealand from some quarters in Malaysia, where the case has generated outrage on the country's active social media networks.
"Heavy rain in KL but cannot wash away the embarrassment for my country," one user tweeted.
Opposition-backed NGO Lawyers for Liberty also said in a statement that it was "shocked and appalled" that the Malaysian government asserted diplomatic immunity.