The exterior of Malaysia's embassy in Wellington, New Zealand. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Malaysia said it will send a government employee who had been working in its embassy in New Zealand back there to face charges of sexual assault and burglary.

The decision will allow the man to "cooperate fully and assist" New Zealand authorities in their investigations, according to a statement issued by the Malaysian foreign ministry Wednesday. The government will provide legal assistance to him "if necessary," it added.

According to Malaysian and New Zealand officials, Muhammad Rizalman Ismail invoked diplomatic immunity to leave New Zealand with his family on May 22, nearly two weeks after he allegedly assaulted a 21-year-old woman in her home in Wellington. Mr. Rizalman, a 38-year-old second warrant officer, was attached at the time to Malaysia's embassy as a defense staff assistant.

It is unclear if Mr. Rizalman has been suspended from government employment or is being detained in Malaysia. Attempts to reach him through the foreign and defense ministries were unsuccessful.

Mr. Rizalman faces charges in New Zealand of assault with intent to rape and burglary. It isn't clear when he will return to New Zealand, but when he does he will appear at a district court to enter a plea. A conviction could draw a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

The New Zealand government said it was pleased by Malaysia's decision to send Mr. Rizalman back. New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, thanked the Malaysian government for "this very welcome development."

Tensions arose publicly between the two countries over how Mr. Rizalman was able to leave New Zealand and where he should be prosecuted.

The flare-up occurred after allegations came to light in an article in the New Zealand Herald, a local newspaper, with the New Zealand government saying publicly it had asked Malaysia to waive diplomatic immunity so Mr. Rizalman could face charges in New Zealand.

Malaysia initially tried to persuade New Zealand not to prosecute in return for a promise the man would never return, according to documents seen by The Wall Street Journal.

According to a person familiar with the matter, Mr. Rizalman isn't part of the diplomatic corps and doesn't carry a diplomatic passport. However, New Zealand officials treated Mr. Rizalman as a diplomat, the person said.

Write to Lucy Craymer at and Jason Ng at