Channel NewsAsia

Malaysia to return envoy wanted in sex case to New Zealand

Malaysia will send a diplomat who is facing an attempted rape charge in Wellington back to New Zealand, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday as a diplomatic storm erupted over the case. 

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said on Wednesday it would send an envoy back to New Zealand to face an attempted rape charge as a diplomatic storm erupted over the case.

The Southeast Asian nation had earlier asked Wellington to drop the case against defence staff assistant Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, promising he would never return to the country, according to documents released on Wednesday.

Muhammad Rizalman appeared in a New Zealand court on May 10. He was 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.

In an about-turn, Malaysia's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Muhammad Rizalman would return to New Zealand "to assist in the investigation for the charges".

"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," it said in a statement.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said this was a "very welcome development which underlines the good faith and integrity with which they (Malaysia) have approached this issue".

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

The Malaysian government has also been accused by its nationals of wrongly protecting Muhammad Rizalman.

"There was never any intention by either government to let this matter rest, and regardless of whether the process took place in Malaysia or New Zealand there was a strong commitment to seeing justice done," McCully said in a statement.

Malaysia said it would provide legal assistance to Muhammad Rizalman, who "is considered innocent until proven guilty".

In an unusual move, New Zealand on earlier Wednesday released correspondence between foreign affairs officials and the Malaysian High Commission, in which the diplomatic mission refused to waive immunity and asked that the charges be dropped and the matter kept quiet.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has said he feels 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.

New Zealand police had said in a statement that they were examining the possibility of applying for Muhammad Rizalman's extradition.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told reporters on Tuesday that Kuala Lumpur had initially been prepared to waive immunity but decided not to when New Zealand presented the option of returning Muhammad Rizalman home.

He had said the case would be treated seriously by authorities in Malaysia.

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 has been poorly served and I've apologised to the prime minister for that," he told reporters.

In Malaysia, opposition politicians, activists and some of the country's active web users have also called on the government to return the envoy to New Zealand.

"Heavy rain in (Kuala Lumpur) but cannot wash away the embarrassment for my country," one user wrote on Twitter.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia