'Will diplomat rape suspect stand trial in NZ?'

KUALA LUMPUR - "When is rape suspect Muhammad Rizalman Ismail returning to face justice in New Zealand?" questioned The New Zealand Herald, after nearly a month's silence since the diplomatic issue hit international headlines.

The former defence staff assistant for the Malaysian High Commission is accused of burglary and assault with intent to rape Tania Billingsley, 21, in her Wellington home on May 9.

He flew back to Malaysia on May 22, despite facing trial in New Zealand, after Wisma Putra invoked diplomatic immunity. The ministry promised to send him back to facilitate investigations, though no date was given.

Armed Forces chief Jen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin cited a pending psychiatric observation on Muhammad Rizalman at the Tuanku Mizan Military Hospital here as a reason, while sources said that the Warrant Officer 2 had asked to be sent back to New Zealand only after Hari Raya.

Hari Raya is over and checks by The Star revealed that Muhammad Rizalman had been discharged from psychiatric observation nearly two weeks ago. Authorities are not disclosing his whereabouts.

"Muhammad Rizalman was initially scheduled to return to this country almost a month ago to face charges of burglary and assault with intent to rape Tania Billingsley. Not only did this not happen but we are no closer to knowing when he will actually stand trial in Wellington," wrote The New Zealand Herald in its Sunday editorial.

It said questions to its Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Prime Minister John Key failed to shed much light on Muhammad Rizalman's return, only that it was a legal process that would take months.

"That is unsatisfactory on any number of counts," it said. "New Zealanders should be told why a process that seemed set to be straightforward has become so involved.

"Why is it taking so long? Is Rizalman digging his toes in and is Malaysia now fighting extradition? What is now the view of the Malaysian government on one of its overseas representatives?

"Has it changed from the initial placatory attitude to New Zealand?" the daily said, questioning if its government was content in allowing the issue to drag on, perhaps, "conveniently" after New Zealand holds its general election next month.

The daily also raised the vacuum of information regarding the case in the interest of Billingsley, who it claims has been ill-served. "Only being told what is going on will reassure New Zealanders that she is not now the victim of a wilful dragging of the chain," it wrote.

When pressed, Wisma Putra said it would release a statement today to update the public on when Muhammad Rizalman would be sent back.