Southeast Asia | Ex-Malaysian envoy pleads guilty to assault in New Zealand

Ex-Malaysian envoy pleads guilty to assault in New Zealand

November 29, 2015 10:58 PM (UTC+8)

 

(From agencies)

A former Malaysian diplomat pleaded guilty in the indecent assault case of a New Zealand woman, with a court hearing he burst into her bedroom naked from the waist down.

Former Malaysian diplomat Mohammed Rizalman bin Ismail stands in the dock as he pleads guilty in Wellington on Monday to the indecent assault of a New Zealand woman
Mohammed Rizalman bin Ismail stands in the dock as he pleads guilty of indecent assault of a New Zealand woman
 Mohammed Rizalman bin Ismail was a military attache at Malaysia’s Wellington embassy when the incident happened last year, and the case caused outrage when he fled to his homeland citing diplomatic immunity.

Rizalman was eventually extradited to face the New Zealand courts and had pleaded not guilty to attempted rape and burglary.

But with his trial due to start Monday, the original charges were dismissed when the 39-year-old admitted one count of indecent assault against Wellington woman Tania Billingsley.

Rizalman’s lawyer Donald Stevens cited extenuating circumstances including mental illness, although prosecutors contest this.

Tania Rose Billingsley
Tania Rose Billingsley

The court heard that on May 9 last year Rizalman arrived at Billingsley’s Brooklyn flat, took off his pants and underwear before entering through the unlocked front door while she was in her bedroom watching a movie on her laptop.

He took off his jacket in the kitchen before knocking on her bedroom door and asking if he could come in.

Billingsley looked up to see Rizalman naked from the waist down and began screaming at him to leave.

Rizalman grabbed her by the shoulders with both hands and struggled with her until she managed to push him into the living room, then out of the flat before locking him out.

Alarmed by her screams, a neighbour called a boyfriend of Billingsley’s flatmate, who lived nearby.

The boyfriend arrived to see Rizalman, now wearing pants, standing in front of the flat and spoke to him briefly.

Rizalman left and was arrested by police soon after.

“The victim was entitled to be very, very frightened at the situation confronting her,” Crown prosecutor Grant Burston said.

Defence counsel Donald Stevens QC said there was “no real dispute” as to what happened. “Rizalman has accepted there was an indecent assault because he went into the house without his underpants on.”

Stevens also said Rizalman told police the pair had been to the cinema together that day, but the court did not hear whether Billingsley confirmed this.

He denied that Rizalman’s act was sexually motivated.

Burston said experts would be called to dispute Rizalman’s argument that he was mentally unwell, saying his behaviour was more consistent with “cannabis use and anxiety”.

A key supporter of Billingsley, who earlier waived her right to name suppression, said the victim was thrilled with her attacker’s guilty plea.

“She’s really pleased with that outcome and thankful she has had such wonderful support at this time.”

She was also “extremely grateful” that she would not have to go through a trial, said the supporter, whose name remained suppressed by the court.

Indecent assault carries a maximum jail term of seven years in New Zealand.

Judge David Collins said a hearing into disputed aspects of the case would take place on Friday before sentencing.

Rizalman sat quietly in the dock as an interpreter explained the proceedings to him. His bail was continued ahead of Friday’s hearing.

Judge Collins said if a home detention sentence was imposed, and he stressed it was only a possibility, Rizalman may be allowed to serve it at the Malaysian embassy.

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