28 Jun 2016

Diplomatic immunity waived for NZer in Korea

3:21 pm on 28 June 2016

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has waived diplomatic immunity for a New Zealand government employee, who is based at the embassy in South Korea.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said it was advised South Korean police were called to a bar in the Itaewon district on 24 May after a complaint from a female staff member about the conduct of two New Zealand businessmen.

The ministry said police investigated the matter and determined no charges would be laid against the businessmen, who had since left South Korea.

But MFAT said police did still want to talk to a New Zealander - a government employee based at the embassy - about an alleged altercation outside the bar.

Mr McCully said he signed a document on 9 June, on behalf of New Zealand, that waived diplomatic immunity and allowed police to interview the man concerned.

He understood police had since interviewed the staff member.

"I think it's well established that we expect diplomats in New Zealand to behave well and be accountable under our laws and we take the same approach in other people's jurisdictions."

Mr McCully said the person involved was not the ambassador, but was based at the embassy.

"This was a New Zealand person to whom immunity applied ... If I could put it this way, New Zealand officials from a number of agencies are covered by diplomatic immunity in places like Korea. This is somebody who was covered by such immunity."

Mr McCully said he had seen a report the man was being interviewed by Korean police overnight but had no further information.

The incident follows a high profile case of charges brought against a former employee of the Malaysian Embassy in Wellington, Muhammad Rizalman.

Mr Rizalman has appealed against his sentence - nine months' home detention and $5000 in reparations to his victim - after admitting a charge of indecent assault.

Muhammad Rizalman at the High Court in Wellington on 30 November 2015.

Muhammad Rizalman in the High Court in Wellington late last year. Photo: POOL / Fairfax NZ

His case sparked diplomatic tensions between New Zealand and Malaysia after confusion about waiving his diplomatic immunity.

Rizalman was allowed to leave the country after being charged, but before facing trial.

He went back to Malaysia, and later returned to New Zealand to face trial.

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