Extradited Malaysian envoy on New Zealand sex charge granted bail

Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, charged with attempted rape, stands in the dock at the Wellington District Court New Zealand on Oct 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, charged with attempted rape, stands in the dock at the Wellington District Court New Zealand on Oct 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A Malaysian diplomat extradited to New Zealand to face an attempted rape charge was granted bail on Tuesday after his lawyer denied he fled the country under the cloak of diplomatic immunity.

Muhammad Rizalman Ismail agreed to strict conditions, including a curfew, not contacting his alleged victim, surrendering his passport and remaining under the supervision of two Malaysian military attaches.

The 38-year-old, dressed in a dark striped shirt and black trousers, stood quietly in the dock with his hands clasped behind his back as his bail application was heard in the Wellington District Court.

He is accused of stalking and attempting to rape 21-year-old Tania Billingsley last May at her home in the same Wellington suburb where Malaysia's High Commission is located.

The envoy, who was a defence staff assistant at the commission, was charged at the time with burglary and assault with intent to rape but left Wellington after Malaysian authorities told their New Zealand counterparts they would not waive diplomatic immunity in the case.

Rizalman's barrister, Donald Stevens, said Malaysian officials, not Rizalman, made the decision to invoke diplomatic immunity and send him back to Kuala Lumpur.

"He left the country not because he was fleeing, as has been suggested by some media organisations," Stevens told the court.

"He left because the Malaysian High Commission would not waive diplomatic immunity and he was directed to do so by the Malaysian government and, as a serving officer in the army, he was required to follow orders."

Arguing that Rizalman was not a flight risk, Stevens said his client had not contested a New Zealand extradition request because he wanted to return to Wellington and "get the matter sorted out".

"He was concerned to return to New Zealand to deal with this matter and resolve it, and so he voluntarily returned, waiving any rights that he had," Stevens said.

Judge Arthur Tompkins granted bail but said Rizalman's lawyers must apply again to have it extended on Nov 3. He ordered Rizalman to return to court on Nov 21 to enter pleas on charges arising from the alleged attack, details of which have not been publicly released.

Rizalman faces a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty.

Billingsley has waived her right to anonymity granted in sex cases under New Zealand law to express her frustration at how the case had been handled. She said in a television interview in July that New Zealand officials appeared more concerned about hushing the matter up and avoiding a diplomatic incident than ensuring justice was served.