KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian diplomat who is said to have sexually assaulted a 21-year-old woman at her home in Wellington has been recalled, but New Zealand is demanding that he be sent back to face charges there.
The incident has created a public outcry in New Zealand, with Prime Minister John Key saying his "preference" was for the diplomat, said to be in his 30s, to be tried under NZ law.
The diplomat apparently followed the young woman back to her home in Brooklyn on the night of May 9 and is alleged to have assaulted her with the intent to rape.
Some reports have also linked him to burglary.
Each of the offences carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
A New Zealand judge has granted an order barring the man's name and details from being revealed on the ground of diplomatic immunity, with government lawyers interpreting the order as including naming the diplomat's home country.
New Zealand's courts sometimes suppress the details of those accused of sexual crimes in order to protect the identity of victims. The New Zealand media has so far complied with the order.
Contacted by The Star yesterday, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman confirmed that the accused was a Malaysian diplomat and that he had been recalled.
Stressing that Wisma Putra was not "protecting" him, Anifah said he had asked that police investigations in New Zealand be allowed to continue in the interest of justice.
"Just because he is a diplomat does not mean he gets off scot-free," Anifah said.
"Diplomatic immunity is not about having the licence to commit crime.
"I have spoken to our High Commissioner (in New Zealand)," he added.
Asked why the diplomat had been recalled, the minister said there could have been a misinterpretation of an email sent to Wisma Putra by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Anifah, who is scheduled to hold a press conference on the issue today, said the diplomat would be returned to Wellington only if he was assured of a fair trial and that his life was not in danger there.