KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia said Tuesday a junior military official at its diplomatic mission in New Zealand returned home in disgrace using diplomatic immunity last month after being charged with sexual assault.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told reporters that a defense ministry panel will investigate Second Warrant Office Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, 38, and "stern action will be taken" if he is found guilty. It was not immediately clear what punishment he faced under Malaysia's military rules.
"Diplomatic immunity is not a license for them to commit crime," he said.
Anifah said Muhammad Rizalman was working at the Malaysian High Commission, or embassy, in Wellington for the past one year as a defense staff assistant when he was detained on May 9 for allegedly following a 21-year-old woman home and assaulting her.
He was charged the next day with burglary and assault with the intent to rape, each of which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. He returned home with his family on May 22.
Anifah said the accused will be sent back to New Zealand "if it is absolutely necessary." Asked to elaborate, Anifah said "I will consider sending him back" if New Zealand thinks that the Malaysian investigation is not being conducted properly and requests for his extradition.
He said that initially Malaysia was willing to waive diplomatic immunity so that he could be tried in New Zealand. "But during discussions on May 12, the New Zealand side offered an alternative for the accused to be brought back to Malaysia," he said. "It was never our intention to treat the matter lightly."
However, New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key earlier indicated that his government would have preferred to keep the man in New Zealand and try him. But Malaysia "stopped us from doing that my invoking diplomatic immunity," he said.
The differing versions of the events could not be immediately reconciled, and Anifah said bilateral ties will not be hurt because Malaysia is cooperating closely with New Zealand.
He said the accused was sent for medical checkup after his return. "His physical state is satisfactory. However he is now under psychiatric evaluation to assess his mental and emotional condition," said Anifah.
The defense ministry has established a board of inquiry to investigate the case thoroughly and has given an assurance that "it will not compromise or conceal any facts on the case being fully aware that Malaysia's good name is at stake," he said.
Although this is an isolated case the government views the issue seriously. "The Malaysian government acknowledges that the incident is a serious matter and we do not have any intention to sweep the matter under the carpet."
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.