|The image captured from Newshub`s report on the sexual assault case. (Newshub)|
New Zealand authorities have heightened pressure on South Korea to cooperate in its probe of a Korean diplomat who has been accused of sexual assault.
Winston Peters, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, urged the Korean government to cooperate by waiving the accused man’s diplomatic immunity and sending him to New Zealand to defend himself.
“It’s over to the Korean government, and for them to allow him to waive the diplomatic immunity and return him to this country,” he told Newshub Nation on Saturday. “If he was innocent as he thought, he could come back and submit himself to our judicial procedures himself. However he does have something called diplomatic immunity, and that’s worldwide protection -- not in cases like this.”
Korea’s former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, surnamed Kim, is accused of groping a male staffer on three different occasions in late 2017 while he was stationed at the Korean Embassy in Wellington. The case reemerged after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the issue in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in last week. It is rare for such a topic to be discussed between two heads of state.
During the phone call, Ardern expressed her disappointment that the Korean government was unable to waive diplomatic immunity and allow the police investigation to proceed, local daily the New Zealand Herald reported Sunday, quoting Ardern’s spokesman.
“The matter now rests with the Korean Government to determine any next steps,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
In response, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry has denied it is protecting the diplomat by insisting on diplomatic immunity. But a ministry official has said it is up to Kim to return to New Zealand to face the charges.
As to the possibility of extradition, a ministry official said the New Zealand police have not requested the extradition of the diplomat, who is now stationed at the Korean Embassy to the Philippines and serves as consul general.
The diplomat left Wellington in February 2018 and faced an internal investigation conducted by the Korean Foreign Ministry. During the investigation, he denied all the allegations and the ministry gave him a one-month pay cut after a disciplinary hearing. Soon after, he was assigned to the Philippines.
New Zealand police carried out an investigation after the staffer filed a complaint, and a Wellington district court issued an arrest warrant for Kim on Feb. 28. If Kim is found guilty, he could face up to seven years in jail.
But New Zealand news outlets have reported that Seoul has been uncooperative, not allowing the police to examine the embassy building and refusing to share CCTV footage.
The Foreign Ministry official said the ministry is verifying the facts and will cooperate with the authorities in New Zealand.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com)