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[Newsmaker] Seoul mediates again in diplomat’s alleged groping of New Zealander

The Foreign Ministry has resumed mediation between one of its diplomats and a male staffer in New Zealand who accused the diplomat of groping him in late 2017.

The ministry said it has informed the purported victim of its mediation on the case, and is awaiting his reply.

Under New Zealand labor law, an employee can seek a settlement for an employer’s misconduct against him through the help of a mediator.

In this case, the administrative staffer, a New Zealander, is the employee, and the South Korean embassy in Wellington is the employer.

The Foreign Ministry and the purported victim went into mediation between January and April this year, but could not reach an agreement.

The staffer requested for mediation again in early August, and the ministry decided to accept it after an internal review.

The ministry’s decision to mediate again comes after the South Korean human rights watchdog said there were some inadequacies in the ministry’s handling of the sexual misconduct case.

Cheong Wa Dae has also told the ministry that there were problems in the way it dealt with the issue.

The staffer said he was sexually harassed by a South Korean diplomat three times between November and December 2017 while both were working at the embassy in Wellington.

The accused diplomat left the country in February 2018 as his term of service there expired, before New Zealand authorities began an inquiry.

After a parliamentary audit on the Foreign Ministry revealed the case, the ministry took disciplinary action on the diplomat, with a pay cut for a month in February 2019.

The ministry ordered the diplomat, who had been serving in the Philippines until mid-August, to return to Seoul, and has not yet reassigned him.

The authorities in New Zealand have not requested South Korea for repatriation of the man accused of groping the staffer.

Korea’s National Human Rights Commission has said it did not see any procedural problems in the Foreign Ministry’s handling of the sexual harassment case.

The ministry gave the accuser two months of special leave until the accused was transferred to the Philippines on Dec. 21, 2017, and ordered the accused to be on leave.

The ministry recommended counseling for the accuser, and informed him that he could talk to the Korean rights commission and Labor Ministry.

The human rights watchdog, however, said that the accuser and accused were not separated long enough as they were both at the embassy for four days from Jan. 15, 2018, after the petitioner returned from time off.

The embassy formed a panel of four officials – the ambassador and three others who were of a junior level compared to the accused -- who issued a warning against the diplomat.

“Regardless of the results, this could raise questions of fairness, and could have a very adverse effect on the petitioner who is the victim,” the rights watchdog said.

The ministry reportedly explained that they had no other choice as there were only five officials including the ambassador and the accused working at the embassy.

The rights commission recommended that the accused diplomat pay 12 million won ($10,300) to the petitioner, and the ministry come up with a manual that can guarantee fairness in looking into cases of sexual misconduct, as well as for aiding victims.

The petitioner had been on paid leave from July 2019 through April this year, and is on unpaid leave since May.

Under an employment contract signed by the petitioner, the ministry can terminate his employment if he receives the lowest grade for job performance two times in a row.

Despite getting the lowest grade four times in a row, the petitioner extended his employment contract for a year in June 2019.

By Kim So-hyun  (