|New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, left, shakes hands with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during his visit to Seoul in October 2019. Peters urged Korea's former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, surnamed Kim, to return and face investigation for alleged sexual harassment of a local staff member when he was stationed in Wellington. Yonhap|
By Yi Whan-woo
New Zealand is putting pressure on Korea to cooperate in its investigation into a senior Korean diplomat who has been accused of sexually harassing a local staff member while posted in New Zealand in 2017.
The country's ranking government officials have called on the diplomat, surnamed Kim, to return to New Zealand and undergo police investigation, which could put him behind bars for years according to the laws there, while he received only a slap on the wrist by Korea's foreign ministry.
The pressure is getting heavier following the telephone talks between President Moon Jae-in and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, July 28. It was a very rare occasion for such a topic to be discussed between leaders of countries, showing how seriously the New Zealand side is taking this issue.
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said, Saturday, that the issue is being dealt with on the highest level of the two countries' foreign affairs ministries.
"It's over to the Korean government, and for them to allow him to waive the diplomatic immunity and return him to this country," Peters told Newshub Nation, a New Zealand news service.
"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. But when in Rome, you do what the Romans do. He did it in New Zealand, that's the allegation," Peters said. "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," he said.
Another local media outlet, New Zealand Herald, reported, Sunday, that during the phone talks, Arden 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 matter now rests with the Korean government to determine any next steps," it quoted a spokesman for the prime minister as saying.
Kim is suspected of groping parts of a New Zealand male staff member's body on three occasions in 2017 when he was serving as the deputy ambassador at the Korean Embassy in Wellington. Each charge can land him up to seven years in prison.
Kim left the country in February 2018 after finishing his term there. He now represents the country as a consul general in the Philippines.
New Zealand police continued their investigation after Kim's departure and a local court issued an arrest warrant for him in February this year.
According to the New Zealand Herald, the country's foreign affairs and trade ministry sought waivers of diplomatic immunity from the Korean government so its police could conduct an evidential inquiry at the Korean embassy in Wellington in September, but the Korean government declined this request.
When he returned to Korea in early 2018, Seoul's foreign ministry wrapped up the issue with light disciplinary action, such as a salary cut, against Kim.
But after the phone talks between Moon and Ardern, the ministry said relevant government organizations were checking facts and discussing how to respond to the request for cooperation in the investigation.
Here, the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) criticized the government for not properly dealing with the matter, calling for the government's cooperation with the New Zealand authorities.
"The government has to have the diplomat be investigated there, so the issue will not grow into a diplomatic conflict between the two nations," UFP spokesman Rep. Bae June-young said in a statement, Sunday.
"Seoul's foreign ministry may have intended to gloss over the matter but it is now facing the moment of truth," he said, adding the government has done nothing although the New Zealand staffer submitted a petition with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in November 2018.