S. Korea to repatriate deputy ambassador to New Zealand amid allegations of sexual misconduct

Posted on : 2020-08-04 17:55 KST Modified on : 2020-08-04 17:55 KST
MOFA unable to force diplomat to face questioning and investigation in New Zealand
An article published by a New Zealand media outlet on South Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the country and allegations of sexual misconduct.
An article published by a New Zealand media outlet on South Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the country and allegations of sexual misconduct.

South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has decided to quickly repatriate its former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, an individual surnamed Kim, who has been charged with sexual misconduct, creating a diplomatic dispute between the two countries. But Seoul is unwilling to force Kim to face the music in New Zealand, as Wellington has requested.

“As of today, we’ve ordered Kim [currently serving as general consul at an embassy in Southeast Asia] to return home as soon as possible,” a senior official at MOFA told reporters on Aug. 3.

The official also addressed the New Zealand government’s request for the diplomat to be sent there for questioning. “Not even the government can tell this individual to go in for questioning [given the likelihood of criminal prosecution]. For the moment, we aren’t considering additional [disciplinary] measures after repatriation, either.”

MOFA summoned New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Philip Turner on Monday afternoon and conveyed Seoul’s position: namely, that the proper approach to resolving this issue is following the two countries’ official procedures for judicial cooperation. During that meeting, MOFA reportedly said that it went against diplomatic norms for the New Zealand government to insert the issue in summit agendas without prior notice and to keep raising the issue in the press while ignoring official judicial protocol.

“We have absolutely no intention of minimizing what happened or giving this individual undue cover just because he’s a MOFA employee,” a senior official said.

Rather than following legal protocol as requested by Seoul, the New Zealand government has been using the press to foster public support for the Korean diplomat being brought to New Zealand for police questioning, apparently because Wellington believes that the diplomat is unlikely to be extradited under a treaty with Korea that took effect in 2002. Article 2 of the treaty states that “extraditable offences are offences which are punishable under the laws of both Parties by deprivation of liberty for a period of at least one year or by a more severe penalty.”

In February 2019, MOFA let Kim off with the mild measure of reduced wages for one month and didn’t take any additional action, such as filing a complaint with the police. A South Korean court is also unlikely to find that Kim committed a serious crime meriting a prison sentence of “at least one year.”

Therefore, the issue will probably go down as an distasteful episode in bilateral relations without being settled in the local courts, as New Zealand wants — unless, that is, Kim travels to New Zealand of his own accord to face police questioning.

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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