Amid calls for Foreign Minister Murray McCully to stand
down or resign over the Government's handling of the sex case
involving a Malaysian diplomat, legal experts warn that media
coverage may have jeopardised the prospect of a fair trial.
Last night an online petition calling for Mr McCully's
resignation had gathered over 250 signatures, including
someone claiming to be Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.
But Mr Craig said he did not sign the petition, and was not
bothered that someone was apparently trying to shake the
National-Conservative relationship. Mr Craig is trying to win
the seat off Mr McCully.
"On the face of it, he's made a mistake, but until we know
the details, it's premature to make that call [to resign],"
The petition follows Tania Billingsley's call for Mr McCully
to resign for his "really incompetent handling of the
Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a former defence attache
assistant at the Malaysian High Commission, is accused of
burglary and assaulting Ms Billingsley with intent to rape.
He was arrested on May 9 but invoked diplomatic immunity and
returned to Malaysia on May 22.
The New Zealand Government said it had always wanted Rizalman
to stand trial in New Zealand, but an ambiguous communication
from an official led to a belief that the Government was
happy for Rizalman to return to Malaysia.
Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer stopped
short of saying Mr McCully's head should roll.
"The honourable thing for him to have done was to say, 'My
ministry failed, and I failed to follow up, and I'm prepared
to offer my resignation'."
He and the Green Party want the review of the ministry's
handling of the case to be external and independent. Greens
co-leader Metiria Turei called for Mr McCully to stand down
for the duration of the review, which should include the
actions of ministers.
A spokesperson for Mr McCully, who is on his way to Europe,
said the minister had nothing to add to his previous
statement. That did not address Ms Billingsley's specific
request for his resignation, but said he had publicly
apologised to her and is awaiting the result of a fully
Meanwhile, NZ Law Society president Chris Moore said media
coverage of the case "may be coming close to harmful
interference with the process of how we determine guilt".
Auckland University law professor Warren Brookbanks said:
"The the defendant could be prejudged in the court of public
opinion when he has no opportunity to answer or offer a
defence to the allegations."
He said the all the publicity meant "there will be real
problems in getting an impartial jury".
"In going public in this way the complainant risks
jeopardising her credibility as a witness, potentially
weakening the prosecution case."
- Derek Cheng of the New Zealand Herald