New Zealand wants Malaysia to act against diplomat over sex charge

WELLINGTON Tue Jul 1, 2014 2:59am EDT

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand pressed the Malaysian government on Tuesday to take action against a diplomat who claimed immunity and left the country after being charged with committing a sexual assault in the capital, Wellington, in May.

The diplomat was named as Mohammed Rizalman Bin Ismail, a Malaysian defense ministry official attached to the high commission in Wellington, after the court-ordered suppression of his identity was lifted.

He was arrested in early May on suspicion of burglary and assault with intent to rape. After one brief court appearance, he returned to Malaysia.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the Malaysian government had been told it was expected Rizalman to answer the charges.

"We made it quite clear that we were under no illusion about how seriously New Zealand took the issue, and we expect the person to be held to account," Key told reporters.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that Malaysia had offered to waive Rizalman's diplomatic immunity to enable his prosecution in New Zealand, but that New Zealand had "offered an alternative" for him to return to his own country.

"With the agreement of the NZ side, the accused person and his family returned to Malaysia on May 22, 2014," Anifah said in a statement.

Malaysia's defense ministry had established a board of inquiry to investigate the case and would not hesitate to take "stern action" against the accused if he was found guilty, the statement said.

Key said Rizalman could be assured of a fair trial if he was sent back to face the charges, which carry maximum penalties of up to 10 years in jail.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said how Kuala Lumpur dealt with the issue would have "a bearing on how we deal with the country concerned".

(Reporting by Gyles Beckford in Wellington and Trinna Leong in Kuala Lumpur.; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

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