July 30, 2020 13:49
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday created an awkward moment for President Moon Jae-in when she mentioned sexual assault charges against a Korean diplomat in her country on the phone to him.
The diplomat, identified by his surname Kim, is accused of behaving indecently toward a male local staff member at the Korean Embassy in Wellington in 2017.
Global leaders often skirt around awkward subjects in friendly phone calls like Tuesday's, while lower-ranking officials get to deal with the prickly issues, so it was unusual for Ardern to mention it.
A Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on Wednesday, "It came out briefly toward the end of the phone call. [Ardern] mentioned the incident, which was reported by local media there, and the president said the government will have the related ministry check the facts and deal with it."
But a diplomatic source said the Foreign Ministry should have taken the incident more seriously in the first place to spare Moon the embarrassment.
The ministry has demurred citing "privacy issues," but sentiment in New Zealand is more censorious after Ardern lost her own immigration minister to a sex scandal, and there are rising calls for the diplomat to be extradited.
New Zealand media recently dug up the case, saying that police there at the time hit a brick wall in their investigation because Seoul was unwilling to cooperate. News website Stuff on Wednesday said police "have told the complainant that extradition of Kim would not be possible without the diplomat being found guilty, and the case cannot be progressed further until Kim returns to New Zealand."
The Foreign Ministry here has not commented further, though it apparently investigated the matter and only docked the diplomat's pay for a month. He is currently a consul general in the Philippines.
Both ruling and opposition party lawmakers chided the ministry for mishandling the incident. Minjoo Party lawmaker Song Gab-seok said, "This is a serious matter that is tarnishing a diplomatic mission representing Korea. The easygoing attitude and response by the Foreign Ministry is deeply concerning."
A total of 14 Foreign Ministry officials have been punished over sexual harassment issues since Moon took office in 2017.
The New Zealand victim, meanwhile, has reported the allegations to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, which soon plans to announce the results of its own investigation.
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