Diplomat case: Harawira's 'big mistake'

By Staff reporters

Tania Billingsley appeared on TV3 3rd Degree last night, and said she's yet to receive a direct apology from Murray McCully. Photo / 3rd Degree
Tania Billingsley appeared on TV3 3rd Degree last night, and said she's yet to receive a direct apology from Murray McCully. Photo / 3rd Degree

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says he made a "big mistake" and has apologised for earlier dismissing the sex assault case involving Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail as a "big fuss about bugger all".

Mr Harawira made the comments on the political show Backbenches last week.

When asked about the case on the show, he said: "I think all of the media, their heads should roll, for making a big fuss about bugger all. There are kids starving in this country, there are a whole lot of issues we need to be dealing with right here, right now ... it's something we can do without."

He said it was an alleged crime.

"Until such time as this sorts itself out, let's get on with running the country in the best interests of all of its citizens."

But this morning on his Facebook page, he apologised.

"Sometimes I make little mistakes and sometimes I make big mistakes. The thing is, when you're wrong, front up and deal with it. I made a BIG mistake last week.

"I want to sincerely apologise if my comments on Backbenches may seem to have minimised the gravity of the situation regarding the young woman who asked police to investigate the complaint of sexual assault against the Malaysian diplomat.

"I have reviewed the tape and I accept that my comments were not helpful at all. Sexual assault IS a big deal, and I applaud Tania Rose Billingsley for her brave and courageous appearance on television last night."

Ms Billingsley, 22, who waived name suppression yesterday to put a name and a face to the case, told TV3's Third Degree last night that she wanted Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to resign over the way his ministry handled the case.

Rizalman, a former staff member at the Malaysian High Commission, is accused of following Ms Billingsley home and assaulting her with intent to rape. He was arrested on May 9 and appeared the next day in Wellington District Court, but invoked diplomatic immunity and returned to Malaysia on May 22.

The New Zealand Government has maintained it always wanted Rizalman to stay in the country and face the charges. But an informal, ambiguous communication from the Mfat official led to a belief that Rizalman's return to Malaysia was acceptable to New Zealand.

"I would like an apology from him [McCully] ... not just for ... what I feel is a really incompetent handling of the situation but in his reaction, like the fact that even when asked directly about me and things like that, that he just kind of brushed it off and he was so intent on trying to put responsibility and blame on everybody else," Ms Billingsley said.

Call for ministers' actions to be probed

An review into the botched handling of a sexual assault complaint against a foreign diplomat by the Foreign Affairs Ministry should also extend to Government ministers' actions, the Green Party says.

The terms for the full inquiry were still being finalised, but Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei called for any inquiry to be independent.

Ms Turei said it was unclear how many ministers were connected to the case, but all ministers involved in getting information about Malaysian Warrant Officer Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail after the alleged attack should have their actions reviewed.

Mr McCully should stand down during during the process, she said.

Rizalman, a former staff member at the Malaysian High Commission, is accused of following Ms Billingsley home and assaulting her with intent to rape. He was arrested on May 9 and appeared the next day in Wellington District Court, but invoked diplomatic immunity and returned to Malaysia on May 22.

The Government has maintained it always wanted Rizalman to stay in the country and face the charges. But an informal, ambiguous communication from a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) official led to a belief that Rizalman's return to Malaysia was acceptable to New Zealand.

The Malaysian Government has since pledged to return Rizalman to face prosecution.

Ms Billingsley was granted automatic name suppression, but it was lifted yesterday at her request so she could put a "face" to the alleged victim.

"I guess that I'm someone who has something to say about this assault, I mean it happened to me and throughout this whole process, especially once it's become so public, my voice hasn't been heard," she told 3rd Degree.

Ms Billingsley, who said she spent the morning of her birthday being told by police her alleged attacker was a diplomat, said Mr McCully's actions had been unsatisfactory.

"I would like an apology from him [McCully] ... not just for ... what I feel is a really incompetent handling of the situation but in his reaction, like the fact that even when asked directly about me and things like that, that he just kind of brushed it off and he was so intent on trying to put responsibility and blame on everybody else."

Mr McCully said he had publicly apologised to the young woman whose distress had been aggravated by the poor management of the case.

"The terms for a full inquiry ... are being finalised. I do not wish to compromise either the inquiry or any criminal proceedings by commenting further."

An Mfat spokesman admitted there had been faults in the handling of Ms Billingsley's case.

"The ministry deeply regrets the distress caused to the individual concerned. Foreign Affairs Ministry chief executive John Allen has apologised to her publicly and by letter."

Labour party foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said the incident was incompetently handled and the Government had not treated it seriously.

- NZ Herald

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