New Zealand prime minister presses Moon on diplomat's alleged sexual harassment

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New Zealand prime minister presses Moon on diplomat's alleged sexual harassment

A South Korean diplomat’s alleged sexual harassment of a local staffer in New Zealand in 2017 has reemerged as a diplomatic issue after the two countries' leaders discussed the matter in a recent phone call.  
 
A senior diplomat, who was at the time assigned to the South Korean Embassy in Wellington, was accused of inappropriate behavior against a local male staffer in late 2017. His name has been withheld in Korea.
 
In a rare move for a foreign leader, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the issue with President Moon Jae-in during a 30-minute phone conversation on Tuesday, despite the topic not being a part of the agenda.  
 
Moon responded by saying that the related authorities will handle the matter “after confirming facts," a senior Blue House official said Wednesday.
 
This diplomat in question left his post in Wellington in February 2018 after being summoned by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In an internal investigation by the ministry, he denied the allegations. The ministry took disciplinary action against him, and he received a one-month pay cut. The diplomat is now serving as a consul general in another foreign country.
 
The local staffer reported the case to the police after the diplomat left the country in February 2018. New Zealand police launched an investigation into the allegations last year, and a Wellington district court issued an arrest warrant for him on Feb. 28.  
 
New Zealand media outlets recently reported that the Korean government has not cooperated with the investigation.  
 
The diplomat has been accused of inappropriately touching a male New Zealander working at the Korean Embassy in Wellington on three separate occasions.  
 
New Zealand’s Newshub Nation reported on July 25 that it had accessed court papers that state the diplomat is wanted on three separate charges of indecent assault from late 2017. The diplomat allegedly touched the staffer in a sexual manner in the diplomat’s office and outside the embassy elevator. The employee reported the incident to his superiors, and a third allegation followed afterward.  
 
The ministry said that the diplomat strongly rejected the allegations during the internal investigation. While the diplomat eventually received a one-month pay cut in October 2018, the ministry did not clarify if the disciplinary action was because of sexual misconduct or another reason.
 
As the diplomat and staffer’s claims differed at the time, the investigation fizzled, and the ministry said it accepted the diplomat's claims rejecting the allegations. He was soon after dispatched to another post in Asia.  
 
The diplomat only has diplomatic immunity while in New Zealand. But there has been criticism of the Foreign Ministry for attempting to sweep the issue under the rug and mishandling the initial investigation process.  
 
"The New Zealand government has expressed its disappointment that the Korean government did not cooperate with earlier requests from New Zealand Police in respect of this case," a spokesperson with New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement to JTBC, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Tuesday.  
 
"New Zealand's position is that we expect all diplomats to follow the laws of the country they are in, and to be legally accountable for their actions."
 
A Korean Foreign Ministry official said that it plans to cooperate with New Zealand by sharing CCTV footage left at its embassy in Wellington.
 
Kim In-chul, a spokesman of Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, declined on Thursday to say whether there are any plans to extradite the diplomat to New Zealand.
 
“We will continue to work to resolving this issue based on accurate facts,” Kim said.
 
He went on to stress that the ministry will continue its “zero-tolerance” policy regarding sexual misconduct.
 
But despite the stated zero-tolerance policy, multiple Korean Foreign Ministry officials have been accused of sexual offenses in countries including Ethiopia, Pakistan and Cambodia in the past several years.  
 
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha vowed to eradicate sexual conduct and proclaimed a zero-tolerance principle in 2017, after the Korean ambassador to Ethiopia from 2014 to 2017 sexually harassed a female local staffer and two other women. The former ambassador was eventually sentenced to one year in prison in 2018 by a Seoul district court.
 
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
 

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