South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Monday ordered a senior diplomat who has been accused of sexual assault when he was stationed in New Zealand to return home immediately.
A senior ministry official said the order is part of disciplinary action taken for the diplomat causing a lot of trouble. He also said the government is willing to cooperate if New Zealand requests extradition of the diplomat.
“We can cooperate in accordance with the procedure for mutual assistance on criminal justice and extradition if New Zealand makes an official request,” he said.
The ministry delivered its position during a meeting between Kim Jung-han, director general for Asia and Pacific affairs, and New Zealand Ambassador to Seoul Philip Turner in the afternoon.
The senior diplomat is accused of groping a male staffer on three different occasions in late 2017 while he was stationed at the Korean Embassy in Wellington. He is now posted in the Philippines. The case reemerged after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the issue in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in last week – a rare topic to be discussed between two heads of state.
During the phone call, Ardern had reportedly expressed her disappointment that the Korean government was unable to waive diplomatic immunity and allow the police investigation to proceed.
The ministry voiced regrets towards New Zealand for raising the matter through media, without trying to resolve the issue diplomatically. It also added raising the issue during the talks between the two leaders is unusual in terms of diplomatic practices.
Since last week, New Zealand has heightened pressure on Korean government to cooperate in its probe. Winston Peters, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, urged the Seoul government to cooperate by waiving the accused man’s diplomatic immunity and send him to New Zealand to defend himself, during an interview with a local media outlet.
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.
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.
The Seoul official denied New Zealand’s claim that the ministry was uncooperative in the ongoing police investigation. The official said that the ministry had proposed ways to cooperate in the probe within the scope of not waiving diplomatic immunity, through embassy officials submitting written interviews and materials, but Wellington has refused.
It also denied that the foreign ministry is trying to protect the diplomat by insisting on diplomatic immunity.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com