New Zealand’s top court ruled Wednesday that a murder suspect can be extradited to China to face trial in a landmark decision following a more than decade-long legal battle.
Chinese authorities accuse Kyung Yup Kim, a South Korean citizen who has permanent residency in New Zealand, of killing a woman in Shanghai in 2009, according to court documents.
China first requested his extradition from New Zealand in 2011, but Kim’s lawyers argued he could face torture and would not receive a fair trial under the country’s murky judicial system, prompting years of legal wrangling.
Like many Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, New Zealand does not have an extradition treaty with China.
In its decision, New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled by three judges to two that Kim’s extradition should proceed. The three judges in favor said they had received sufficient assurances from China and were “satisfied that there was no real risk Mr. Kim would face an unfair trial.”
Chinese authorities had assured the court that if extradited, Kim would have access to New Zealand consular staff, and be tried and detained in Shanghai rather than sent elsewhere in the country, according to the ruling.
The court added it felt confident China would stick to its word, citing “the strength of (China’s) motivation to honor the assurances” and “the strength of the bilateral relationship between the two countries.”
Kim’s lawyers had argued the high-profile nature of this case and its sensitivity to Chinese authorities put him at high risk. In the Wednesday ruling, the court disagreed, saying he was “an ordinary criminal suspect” because he “does not belong to a minority group and is not a political prisoner.”
In a statement to CNN, Tony Ellis, Kim’s lead lawyer, said Kim was “very disappointed with the judgment.”
The team will fight the extradition by filing a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee and seek a fresh judicial review if necessary, Ellis said.
He cited the more than two years the Supreme Court had taken to reach its decision and Kim’s numerous health issues – including severe depression, a small brain tumor, and liver and kidney diseases – as grounds to object.
After China’s initial extradition request in 2011, Kim had been detained for five years then granted bail on the condition he wore an ankle bracelet, making him the longest serving detainee without trial in New Zealand’s modern history, Ellis said.
The case against Kim
Kim has lived in New Zealand since he was 14 years old, according to court documents. His mother is also a New Zealand permanent resident, while his father, brother and two children are citizens.
The case against him dates back to December 2009, when a young woman who worked as a waitress at a bar was found dead in Shanghai, according to court documents. At the time, Kim was visiting Shanghai and had rented an apartment there.
Pieces of a quilt were found on her body – which were identified by Kim’s then-girlfriend as similar to one he owned. When police searched Kim’s apartment, they found samples that matched the waitress’ DNA.
Kim had also told a contact in a telephone conversation that he may have beaten a sex worker to death, according to police.
Court documents said there was evidence to suggest the waitress may have engaged in sex work.
Kim has denied the murder charges.
Following China’s initial extradition request, the New Zealand courts ruled in 2013 that Kim could be handed over and that decision was confirmed two years later by the Minister of Justice. However, Kim filed for a judicial review and successfully challenged the decision.
After receiving further assurances from China that it would treat Kim humanely, the minister in 2016 decided to recommend Kim’s extradition a second time.
Kim once again challenged the decision – first unsuccessfully at the High Court then successfully at the Court of Appeal in 2019.
The case then went to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.
At the time, the Chinese Foreign Ministry had urged New Zealand to extradite Kim “as soon as possible, so that justice can be upheld for the victim,” and defended the Chinese judicial system as respecting “the legal rights of criminal suspects.”
In China, courts, prosecutors and police are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party’s powerful Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission and its local branches.
China’s judicial system has a conviction rate of about 99%, according to legal observers. Human rights advocates say unfair trials and the torture and mistreatment of prisoners are common.