Kiwi at centre of international sexual assault case blasts inaction from Govt, police

The Kiwi in the middle of a sexual assault case which has tested relations between Wellington and Seoul has spoken out for the first time publicly. 

He's the man who alleges he was assaulted by South Korean diplomat Hongkon Kim. Now, in his first-ever interview, he says authorities have let him down.

Kim is no closer to facing justice, and now the alleged victim fears it might never come. To protect his identity, we're calling him Thomas. 

"My life's been destroyed by this. He took away all the power and authority that I have as a person. He took away my humanity," he told Newshub Nation. 

"That's why I'm talking to you today because I don't think I'll ever get justice."

His story begins at the Korean embassy in Wellington, in November of 2017. Deputy Ambassador Hongkon Kim is accused of groping him in his office and repeating it twice in the following weeks.

"It was impossible to come forward. But I did speak up at the time, because I knew what happened to me was wrong," Thomas said. 

The complainant reported it first to the embassy - who failed to separate him immediately from Kim. In 2019 he went to police, who laid three charges of indecent assault in a Wellington court in February this year.

"The officers who investigated were amazing and really supportive. They got the arrest warrants, and then once we got that we expected that they would seek extradition."

But extradition was not forthcoming. Kim left the country weeks after the incidents serving as Korea's Consul General in the Philippines.

And the case went quiet for several months until in July, Newshub Nation revealed Korea's role in blocking the investigation. It caused a media storm in Korea, which soon escalated to the international stage.

Not long after those stories, the Prime Minister raised it directly with the Korean President. 

"I was really proud to be a New Zealander, it was great that she was sticking up for the values that we believe in as New Zealanders - that this is not acceptable and it shouldn't happen," Thomas said. 

Kim was quickly recalled to Seoul where the story was a source of national shame. South Korea's Foreign Minister was hauled before Parliament and a series of audit hearings followed.

But now the ball's in New Zealand's court. Korea says it will cooperate with requests for extradition or legal assistance - requests which so far have not come.

South Korean diplomat Hongkon Kim (left)
South Korean diplomat Hongkon Kim (left) Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

New Zealand's treaty with South Korea only allows for extradition when both countries consider the allegations a crime.

Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) wrote a briefing for Foreign Minister Winston Peters in July - declaring "under Korean law, the alleged acts aren't considered criminal and the prosecution is unlikely to progress further unless Mr Kim returns to New Zealand". 

Newshub Nation understands at the time of the briefing, South Korea's foreign ministry didn't believe Kim's actions were a crime. According to Thomas, that's not good enough. 

"Sexual assault's a crime anywhere in the world, whether it's in NZ or in Korea, and Korean law is very very clear that what happened to me is an illegal thing that has happened and it should never have happened."

Korean law has a specific offence for "Indecent Acts through Abuse of Occupational authority" - it carries up to two years in jail. But New Zealand Police refuse to comment on whether that law applies to this case.

Documents obtained by Newshub Nation show MFAT has stopped raising it with Korea. And nothing has happened in several months. In a statement to Newshub Nation MFAT said questions about extradition sit with police.

To whoever is responsible, Thomas' message is blunt. 

"Do your job properly, do what you need to do to seek justice - not just for me but to send a message."

It's a stark contrast to 2014 when Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman was extradited to New Zealand for trial. Rizalman was accused of attempted rape and yet was allowed to leave the country. But within six months he was back to face charges,  pleading guilty in New Zealand court. Thomas had hoped his case could see a similar result. 

"I had confidence that New Zealand had learnt and systems had been improved and changed since then so these problems didn't continue. The confidence is gone."

Police wouldn't comment at all for this story - they've stopped giving updates to the victim too. And without answers, it's hard to move on. The victim remains on sick leave from the embassy and has been diagnosed with PTSD.

"That New Zealand accepts that foreign diplomats can come to New Zealand, sexually harass people and leave the country and not be held to account. Someone needs to take accountability and tell me why this person hasn't been extradited yet.

"I need the power of the courts to restore my power, my mana, my dignity."

 Until that day, he remains in the dark.