New Zealand’s top court yesterday left open the possibility that a man could be extradited to China to face murder charges in a landmark case that has big diplomatic implications.
It remains uncertain whether the extradition of Kim Kyung-yup will proceed in a case that has already dragged on for more than a decade.
The dispute hinges on whether New Zealand can be assured that Kim would get a fair trial if he is sent to China and would not be tortured. New Zealand does not have an extradition treaty with China.
The New Zealand Supreme Court yesterday did not make a final ruling on the case, but asked for more information from New Zealand Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi and others to be submitted by the end of next month.
The 3-2 split decision found that it was possible for New Zealand to get sufficient assurance from China about Kim’s welfare, partially overturning an earlier appeals court ruling.
Such assurances could include confirmation that representatives could visit Kim at least every 48 hours during the investigation and that the trial take place in Shanghai, but times have changed since a previous justice minister from a conservative government backed extradition.
Faafoi is a member of a liberal government and will decide how to proceed at a time when relations with China have deteriorated.
The court acknowledged that Faafoi might see things differently, saying he would be “entitled to depart from the previous minister’s decision.”
Faafoi yesterday said that he would not comment while the case was still being litigated.
Kim’s lead lawyer, Tony Ellis, said they were surprised and disappointed by the court’s partial decision and that under the Chinese Communist Party, China remains a rogue state.
“It engages in endemic use of torture, does not guarantee fair trials, and more widely rejects the basic premise that it must respect international human rights law,” Ellis said.
He said Kim had already suffered severe depression and physical health problems after being incarcerated for more than five years and spending another three years on electronic monitoring, making him the longest-serving prisoner not to face a trial in modern New Zealand.
Ellis said they would also challenge the partial judgement before the UN Human Rights Committee.
Kim is a South Korean who moved to New Zealand more than 30 years ago with his family when he was 14, according to court documents.
He is accused of killing a 20-year-old waitress and sex worker, Chen Peiyun, in Shanghai after traveling to the city to visit a different woman who was his girlfriend at the time.
Chen was found in a Shanghai wasteland on New Year’s Eve 2009. An autopsy concluded that she had been strangled to death and that she had also been hit on the head with a blunt object.
Chinese police say they have forensic and circumstantial evidence linking Kim to the crime, including a quilt found with the body. They say a distraught Kim told an acquaintance that he might have “beaten a prostitute to death.”
Kim says that he is innocent.
Kim’s defense would be that his former girlfriend, who has Chinese Communist Party connections, was responsible for the crime, Ellis said.
Kim was arrested in 2011 after China asked to extradite him on one count of intentional homicide. He spent five years in a New Zealand jail as his extradition case proceeded, before he was released on bail.
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