Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail 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. Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and his officials are refusing to shed any light on Rizalman's return. This week, the Prime Minister would say only that this involved a legal process and was expected to take months, as opposed to weeks or years.
That is unsatisfactory on any number of counts. New Zealanders should be told why a process that seemed set to be straightforward has become so involved. Early last month, Malaysia volunteered to return Rizalman to this country, saying justice had to be done and seen to be done to ensure its credibility and image was upheld internationally. Subsequently, the diplomat had to be admitted to a Malaysian military hospital for psychiatric treatment. He was released more than a week ago, but it seems now that he will not be back in New Zealand any time soon.
John Key's reference to a legal process hardly helped to explain exactly what is going on and why it is taking so long. Is Rizalman digging his toes in and is Malaysia now fighting extradition?
If so, what does that involve? 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?
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And is the Key Government content for the process to drag on, and Rizalman to remain in Malaysia until after the general election? That might be a very convenient state of affairs.
The dearth of information means such speculation will flourish. In no way is that healthy. And in no way should it be happening after an incident that was so appallingly handled by Murray McCully and his ministry. The granting of diplomatic immunity to Rizalman highlighted a culture in which diplomats quietly look after each other. The approach now suggests nothing has been learned about the need to be upfront in matters of much public interest.
And nor, again, are the interests of Ms Billingsley being given appropriate consideration. Has neither the Government nor the ministry heard the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied? As the allegedly injured party, Ms Billingsley has the right to see justice done as soon as possible. Already, she has been ill-served in several ways. 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.