The story about the Malaysian diplomat who relied on diplomatic immunity to avoid New Zealand’s justice system grinds on. And the longer it grinds on the worse it gets for the Government.
There seems to be a divergence of views between the New Zealand Government and the Malaysian Government on what should happen to Mr Muhhammed Rizalman Bin Ismail, the Malaysian diplomat charged with assault with intent to rape and breaking and entering. John Key thought that New Zealand wanted to keep Mr Ismail in New Zealand to be dealt with by our justice system. The Malaysian Government thought differently and was under the impression our Government was comfortable if Mr Ismail left. No doubt eventually the truth will come out.
This paragraph was prepared before the announcement that Mr Ismail is to be returned to New Zealand but my impression is that the prospects of the Malaysian Government originally insisting on Mr Ismail’s return were very remote. This is because when he first appeared in Court he did not have the benefit of a Malaysian Government paid QC standing up for him even though members from the Consulate were there in support. Instead he relied on the support of a local Duty Solicitor, the free legal representation provided to people appearing in Court who cannot afford paid representation. The quality of representation is high but it not the sort of service you rely on if you are trying to avoid an international incident. Malaysia’s disinterest and failure to pay for Mr Ismail’s legal representation is a strong hint that it was totally indifferent to what happened to him.
The granting of name suppression needs to be considered further. Its renewal was criticised by Judge Collins in the High Court and the police’s stance on this issue was very politely criticised by the Judge. But why were the departments of state attempting to keep news of the case suppressed even after Mr Ismail had left the country?
The timeline is fascinating. The alleged offence occurred on May 9 and Mr Ismail appeared in Court on May 10. That same day MFAT asked the Malaysian Government to waive Diplomatic Immunity and McCully was briefed on the incident.
On May 12, which was coincidentally
Budget Day during budget week, John Key was briefed. Also that day the Malaysians thought that the New Zealand representatives offered for Mr Ismail to be returned to Malaysia.
On May 21 the Malaysian Government stated that it would not waive diplomatic immunity. The next day Mr Ismail left New Zealand.
Then the story went quiet until June 29 when the story broke in the Herald. The day after on June 30 McCully summonsed the Malaysian High Commissioner for a “please explain” session. If there was going to be a “please explain” session it should have occurred shortly after May 21.
The Government’s defence appears to be that they had no idea about what was going on. But someone in the know has scoffed at the suggestion that McCully is not a micro manager (HT Tracey). Are we really meant to believe that the most serious diplomatic immunity incident in decades was going to be met with complete indifference by McCully and by Key?
There must have been regular briefings on what was happening. If not I would wonder what sort of Government we have.
Presuming that McCully knew and wanted to keep the issue quiet I suspect that it was all about not spoiling Budget Week or Key’s love in with Obama. But I am astounded if they thought that allowing someone charged with assault with intent to commit rape avoid justice by the use of diplomatic immunity would not be a significant issue and that it could be kept quiet.
It is possible that McCully dropped the ball on this. He has been obviously preoccupied with the future of his political career. There are already suggestions that he will be sacrificed so that the Conservative Party will hopefully have a bolt hole, and what better way to have a bolt hole than to sacrifice a Minister for gross ineptitude?
And I am intrigued. I had thought that the National Party List for this election was going to be announced last weekend and I wonder why is there a delay? Could it be about what position McCully occupies, or is it that he may not have a list position at all? It really seems that National will eat its young for political advantage.
There are obvious attempts to blame the public servants for what has happened. McCully’s recent bungled handling of MFAT’s reorganisation has clearly hurt its capacity. But if there is any surviving vestige of the concept of Ministerial responsibility McCully should be gone.