The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Diplomat claims immunity and returns to his home country to evade sex charges in New Zealand

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A diplomat has evaded sexual assault charges in New Zealand by claiming diplomatic immunity and returning home.

New Zealand police said the man, who is in his 30s, last month followed a 21-year-old woman 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.

A New Zealand judge has suppressed the man's name and details of the case which could identify him. Government lawyers have interpreted that order as including naming the diplomat's home country.

New Zealand's government sought a waiver of diplomatic immunity so the man could face trial in New Zealand, but was rebuffed by the man's home country, which sent him home within days of the May 9 incident.

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

"Effectively the sending country 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 has been summoned by officials to emphasize how seriously New Zealand views the situation. He added that New Zealand maintains good relations with the country in question.

New Zealand's courts sometimes suppress the details of those accused of sexual crimes in order to protect the identity of any victims. Court officials were not immediately able Monday to provide reasons for the suppression order in this case.

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