Diplomat case: Attacks on sex inquiry's terms of reference

By Derek Cheng

Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo / NZPA
Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo / NZPA

The inquiry into the Government's mistakes in its handling of the alleged sex case involving a Malaysian diplomat is being denounced for not specifically putting the roles of Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Prime Minister John Key under the microscope.

It is still uncertain when Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, 38, will return to New Zealand to stand trial. He is charged with burglary and assault with intent to rape Tania Billingsley, 22, who waived her automatic name suppression this week.

The Government has apologised for its mishandling of the case and set up a ministerial inquiry.

It has claimed it wanted Rizalman to stand trial in New Zealand, but an ambiguous message from a Government official led to the wrong impression that New Zealand was happy for Rizalman to invoke diplomatic immunity and leave the country.

Opposition parties attacked the inquiry's terms of reference, released yesterday, for not specifically identifying the role of Mr McCully for scrutiny.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, a former Foreign Minister, said it was scarcely believable that the mistake boiled down to a single official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs claim to have been out of the loop. So what on earth were they briefed about? You're the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Red flags are coming up everywhere in front of your face, surely?

"The inquiry seeks to go straight to the civil servants, and crudely suggests that all the blame lies there. I don't believe for a moment that civil servants would be proceeding without tacit knowledge of the minister and the Prime Minister."

Read also: Why police removed bail conditions

It is still uncertain when Rizalman will return to NZ to stand trial.

A spokesperson for Mr McCully, who is in Europe, said the minister "fully expects that he, and staff from his office, will be interviewed" — but it is up to the head of the inquiry to conduct the inquiry as he chooses.

Former Treasury Secretary John Whitehead will lead the inquiry.

A ministerial inquiry is non-statutory and has no coercive powers.

Meanwhile, court documents released yesterday revealed that police removed the bail conditions, including an order to surrender his passport, a week before Rizalman left the country. He was meant to relinquish his passport by May 12, the same day the Malaysia High Commission met police and Mfat to discuss the case.

Wellington District Police Commander Superintendent Sam Hoyle said once diplomatic immunity was confirmed, bail conditions were no longer enforceable.

The spokesperson for Mr McCully said there was no ministerial involvement in the police decision.

The conditions were removed on May 15, and Rizalman flew back to Malaysia on May 22.

- NZ Herald

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