Failure to open memo on sex-case staffer for several weeks defies belief, says Labour

An email to Foreign Minister Murray McCully's office about former Malaysian diplomat Muhammed Rizalman bin Ismail invoking diplomatic immunity remained unopened for weeks - allegedly because communications were limited as the minister travelled to New York.

Rizalman is charged with burglary and assault with intent to rape Tania Billingsley, 22, in an incident on May 9. He invoked diplomatic immunity and fled to Malaysia, but is expected to return to stand trial.

This week, Prime Minister John Key said Rizalman's return to New Zealand was a legal process and was expected to take months, as opposed to weeks or years.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) head John Allen has already apologised for mishandling the case. An Mfat official gave Malaysia the mistaken impression that New Zealand was happy for Rizalman to leave the country.


But the failure to open the email for so long raises questions about the minister's office. Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said Mr McCully was on his way to the United Nations when the email was sent.

"He was travelling into New York, and New York has pretty good internet access. It defies belief that that email wasn't opened when it was likely to have 'Malaysian diplomat' on top of it.

"It blows holes in Mr McCully's statement, firstly that he didn't know [about Rizalman returning to Malaysia] until June 29, and secondly, that all the fault lies with Mfat and not in his own office."

Mr McCully has previously alluded to the email, saying it was not opened because of communication problems, and "other members of my staff, who should have been copied in, were not".

Yesterday, Mr Shearer revealed the email was sent on May 22 - the day Rizalman flew back to Malaysia.

Mr McCully is at the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau. Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman told the House the email was not identified until some time in June, when correspondence was reviewed in the office. He couldn't say when the email was opened.