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New Zealand officials identify diplomat charged with sexual assault as Malaysian

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand officials on Tuesday identified a diplomat charged with sexual assault as Malaysian.

The man, Muhammad Rizalman Bin Ismail, evaded the charges in New Zealand by claiming diplomatic immunity and returning home last month.

He worked for the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington. He remained listed on the commission's website Tuesday as a staff assistant assigned to defence duties.

New Zealand police said Ismail, who is in his 30s, last month followed a 21-year-old woman home and assaulted her. They have charged him with burglary and assault with the intent to rape, each of which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Monday that it was New Zealand's "very strong preference" that the man face trial in New Zealand.

"Effectively, the sending country (Malaysia) stopped us from doing that by invoking diplomatic immunity," Key said. "Though, I would make the point that it's our expectation he will be held to account in his home country."

Key said the diplomat's boss in New Zealand was summoned by officials to emphasize how seriously New Zealand views the situation. He added that New Zealand maintains good relations with Malaysia.

A New Zealand judge had earlier suppressed the man's name and details of the case which could identify him, which government lawyers interpreted as including his country of origin.

But a High Court judge on Tuesday lifted the suppression order. The judge said he would detail his reasoning later.

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