Efforts to bring a South Korean diplomat back to New Zealand to face sexual assault charges have had to be put on hold due to coronavirus.

The diplomat, counsellor Hongkon Kim, was charged with indecent assault against a staff member at the South Korean embassy in Wellington.

Kim has already been disciplined by the Korean Foreign Ministry, but the case was not reported to the police until the complainant came forward to New Zealand authorities.

Despite the charges, Kim is now working as Consul General in the Korean embassy in the Philippines.

Advertisement

A photo posted on the embassy's website shows Kim meeting with the country's new police commissioner. The photo was posted on the same day an arrest warrant was issued for Kim in New Zealand.

It's understood Kim left New Zealand in 2018 after the complainant raised concerns with the embassy. Police have had to pause discussions with other embassies and government agencies about bringing him back, due to Covid-19 border closures, an officer confirmed.

An arrest warrant was issued for Kim in the Wellington District Court on February 28, a court staff member confirmed.

A source told the Herald Kim allegedly sexually assaulted the complainant three times at the embassy while at work in late 2017.

In correspondence leaked to the Herald, an embassy manager told the complainant there was a zero tolerance policy toward any types of harassment in the workplace.

"Therefore, I take your allegation seriously and reported this case to the ambassador last week," the email said.

"FYI I asked Mr HG Kim to submit his part of explanation in written form,
and would like to discuss this further when you come back to the office next week.

"For the record, Mr HG Kim never admitted that he had 'groped' your chest/breast area,
but instead he denied any wrong doing and inappropriate intention."

The manager promised the complainant they would conduct a thorough investigation and take "appropriate action".

The embassy told the Herald it would not confirm the name of the diplomat involved due to privacy reasons, but said the Korean Foreign Ministry took immediate steps to investigate the allegations.

Advertisement

"This was done in a way which ensured that the staff member was listened to and supported," said the embassy's first secretary, Sangho Lee.

"The measures initially adopted to resolve the matter were welcomed by the staff member. The embassy took all reasonable steps to ensure that the diplomat was kept away from the staff member and its diplomatic staff have spent a great deal of time and effort ensuring that the staff member is safe and adequately supported."

Lee said the diplomat was disciplined by the Korean Foreign Ministry, at which point his posting in New Zealand came to its natural end and he was posted to another country "in line with the Foreign Ministry's normal procedures".

Lawyer for the embassy Christopher Griggs confirmed the discipline was the loss of one month's pay.

The Herald's source said the complainant was not provided with support.

"[The complainant] was told to put it in the past and move on, and then the [complainant] went [to] NZ police," they said.

Advertisement

Police could not confirm whether extradition proceedings were being pursued.

Grant Illingworth, QC, who specialises in extradition law, told the Herald diplomats normally have immunity from arrest and criminal charges in a country they are posted to.

This diplomatic immunity may only be waived by the state that sent the diplomat.

"It follows that the extradition of a diplomat to face criminal charges would not normally be possible without significant co-operation from the requested country," Illingworth said.

"Diplomatic immunity could 'kick in' at several stages of the charging and extradition process. [It] could be raised prior to the person being charged, after the person had been charged and also during the course of the extradition process."

New Zealand did have an extradition treaty with South Korea, he said.

Advertisement

"Normally an extradition request would be addressed to the country in which the person is residing at the present time. But if the person is a diplomat or consular representative, he could be recalled to his home country by his government."

In 2016 a Malaysian diplomat was successfully convicted in New Zealand after indecently assaulting a Wellington woman and defecating outside her house.

In 2014 Muhammed Rizalman bin Ismail entered the young woman's bedroom with his pants and underwear down.

He was charged over the incident, but left New Zealand before further court proceedings began.

After public backlash, Rizalman was extradited to New Zealand on October 24, 2014.

He pleaded guilty to indecent assault in 2015 and was sentenced to nine months' home detention.

Advertisement