August 03, 2020 12:09
A sexual-harassment scandal that happened three years ago at the Korean Embassy in New Zealand is turning into a major diplomatic issue.
Senior figures in the government of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have accused Korea of protecting the diplomat, identified as Kim, against charges of sexual harassment of a male local embassy staffer.
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on a TV program on Saturday, "It's over to the Korean government, and for them to allow [Kim] to waive the diplomatic immunity and return him to this country."
Ardern herself raised the matter in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in last week when the New Zealand press dug up the case after she fired her immigration minister over a sex scandal.
Kim, who is currently the consul general in the Philippines, only had a month's pay docked in 2018 for allegedly groping the staffer on several occasions and was reassigned before police in New Zealand launched an investigation.
"We've taken it to the very highest level between the Foreign Affairs Department and their Foreign Affairs Department, all the way," Peters said. "Now remember this -- the crime which he is alleged to have committed is a crime in our country -- it's not a crime in Korea."
Earlier, the Foreign Ministry here cited diplomatic immunity in refusing to consider extraditing Kim, but Peters seemed confused about the ramifications.
"If he was innocent as he thought, he could come back and submit himself to our judicial procedures himself," Peters said. "However, he does have something called diplomatic immunity, and that's worldwide protection -- not in cases like this. This is now at the highest level, it's with President Moon."
A New Zealand Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Sunday said Ardern "expressed her disappointment that the Korean government was unable to waive immunity to allow aspects of the police investigation into this matter to proceed."
The government here is coming under increasing criticism at home for letting Kim off with a slap on the wrist and causing Korea to lose face.
One former deputy foreign minister said the incident is "unprecedented," while another diplomatic source said, "I can't understand why the Foreign Ministry took such passive steps and made it look as if it was trying to protect the diplomat."
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