In June last year, the Herald on Sunday revealed a Malaysian diplomat was allowed to leave New Zealand after an attack on a young woman in her Wellington home. The ensuing publicity saw him return and this week he pleaded guilty. But the case leaves the Government with serious questions to answer.

Why won't the Government release its review of the case?

It is almost 18 months since Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a military attache at the Malaysian High Commission, attacked Wellington woman Tania Billingsley in her home - and a week short of a year since a report was completed into how he was allowed to leave the country.

Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail pleaded guilty to indecent assault. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail pleaded guilty to indecent assault. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Rizalman pleaded guilty to indecent assault this week but the Government says it is still not ready to release the report. It had said it would be released after Rizalman's trial. But after his guilty plea on Monday, it said the report would not be made public until after sentencing. The big question is how Foreign Affairs got it so wrong.

According to a summary of facts presented in court, 21-year-old Billingsley was alone in the bedroom of her Wellington home in May last year when Rizalman broke in. He took off his pants and underwear before opening the unlocked front door. Inside, he took off his jacket and, wearing only a shirt, pushed open the bedroom door, saying "Can I come in?"


Billingsley began screaming and Rizalman grabbed her shoulders. The pair struggled before Billingsley pushed Rizalman out of her bedroom and ran to a bathroom where she called police. Neighbours came to help but Rizalman left. He was arrested and charged but returned to Malaysia less than two weeks later under diplomatic immunity protection.

New Zealand initially blamed Malaysia for invoking immunity, then conceded its officials may have given the mistaken impression they did not oppose Rizalman returning home.

The Herald on Sunday says the full report must be released immediately to provide transparency.

Who let Rizalman leave?

The <i>Herald on Sunday</i> reported on the case in June last year.
The Herald on Sunday reported on the case in June last year.

Mid-level Foreign Affairs public servant Mary Oliver took the fall.

On May 10, Rizalman was arrested on charges of burglary and attempted rape. The same day Mfat issued a formal request that Rizalman waive diplomatic immunity to face charges.

However, two days later Oliver, the deputy chief of protocol at Mfat, met counterparts at the Malaysian High Commission to discuss the situation.

According to the Malaysian foreign minister it was at this meeting that "the New Zealand side had offered an alternative for the accused to be brought back to Malaysia. It was never our intention to treat the matter lightly".


Rizalman left the country on May 22, a day after Malaysia declined to waive immunity, asking for the police case to be sealed.

Initially, the Government, from the Prime Minister down, said that Malaysian officials had repeatedly been asked to pass on that it was New Zealand's "clear preference" for Rizalman to face justice here.

However Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully later admitted that the communications could have led to ambiguity, and the Malaysians had acted in a way which they believed was acceptable to New Zealand. Oliver retired but can have been left in no doubt about her position - Prime Minister John Key said Oliver should assess her career options. He avoided using Oliver's name but said: "If that person doesn't have clarity about that position then they need to think very strongly about whether they're in the right job."

The situation had added to Billingsley's distress by creating ambiguity, he said.

However, there remain significant questions as to who else was involved in the decision-making and who was alerted to the situation.

What did Murray McCully know and when?

Murray McCully. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Murray McCully. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A single email is at the heart of the report into the Malaysian diplomat botch-up, according to McCully.

McCully faced calls to resign over the case but refused and had the Prime Minister's backing.

Exactly what that email is and what its contents are has not been made public.

However, an email sent to McCully's office on May 22 last year - the day Rizalman flew back to Malaysia - remained unopened for several weeks.

The email was about Rizalman invoking diplomatic immunity. McCully blamed limited communications as he was in New York but political opponents have expressed disbelief.

McCully has claimed the first time he knew of the case was on June 29 when correspondence was reviewed in his office.

Questions remain as to who else was - or should have been - informed and what, if anything, they did. Green MP Jan Logie said this week that Key and then-Police Minister Anne Tolley were also briefed about the attack.

Why hasn't John Key apologised?

Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail in the dock of the High Court at Wellington last week. Photo / Pool
Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail in the dock of the High Court at Wellington last week. Photo / Pool

As details of the case continued to emerge, the Prime Minister voiced his outrage.

Only July 3 last year, Key said he would apologise to the then-unknown victim.

"I don't know her name. Obviously it's a matter of privacy, but I think there's been plenty of public comments that would echo what I've just said," he said.

Asked directly whether he would apologise if he did know her name, Key said: "Yes, in so much that I believe that she shouldn't have had to go through what she went through."

Three weeks later, Tania Billingsley waived her legal right to anonymity and gave a television interview about what she had been through. She called McCully incompetent and accused Key of being dismissive.

But Key then refused to apologise, saying he only said sorry if there was a serious reason for him to do so.

McCully and then-head of Mfat, John Allen, apologised, which Key said was wholly appropriate. Allen has since quit his job.

What happens now?

Although Rizalman has pleaded guilty he is disputing some of the facts and a court hearing will continue next week in the High Court at Wellington. Once that is over the judge will set a sentencing date.