WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Sending a murder suspect to court in China could end up costing New Zealand taxpayers millions of dollars because officials would have to send an additional diplomat to Shanghai to oversee his treatment, documents obtained exclusively by The Associated Press were received show.
But the documents also show that New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta is confident the Chinese authorities will not torture the suspect or give him an unfair trial because it would bring bad publicity to the communist regime, which would amount to a test case closely watched worldwide will.
New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled in April that Kyung Yup Kim could be extradited to China in a landmark ruling, bucking the trend of most democratic nations having blocked extraditions to China over concerns that prisoners are often tortured into confessions. They do not receive fair trials and face undue hardship if found guilty and imprisoned.
Following the 3-2 court verdict, it is now up to Attorney General Kiri Allan to decide whether to send Kim to China. In a statement to the AP, Allan said she was first seeking legal advice on a complaint from Kim’s lawyers to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
In documents obtained for the AP through New Zealand’s public records laws, State and Trade Department officials outlined the potential cost of posting Kim to China.
They estimate Kim would likely serve more than a decade in prison if convicted and that allowing New Zealand officials to visit him every two days during his trial and every 15 days thereafter would have “long-term resource implications.”
They say they will need to send a senior consular officer to Shanghai to monitor Kim and estimate the cost for the first year at NZ$377,000 (US$234,000), which would cover relocation expenses and a salary.
“After the investigation and trial phase and if Mr Kim is convicted, the secondment of a senior consular officer may need to be permanent to meet surveillance expectations,” one official wrote in an email.
But while officials planned to closely monitor Kim’s treatment, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Mahuta also tried to reassure former Justice Minister Kris Faafoi that China would honor its pledges to treat Kim fairly.
In an October letter to Faafoi, Mahuta wrote that it was her “clear view that China will uphold the assurances,” despite her concerns about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang region, the “regressive” national security law enacted in Hong Kong and China’s three-year jailing of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on ‘false allegations’
“This will be a test case for China – one that the international community is watching closely,” Mahuta wrote in her letter to Faafoi.
“This means China’s incentives to honor the pledges are strong. If China fails to honor the pledges, we could publicly disclose this information, which would seriously jeopardize China’s law enforcement cooperation with many countries and damage its broader interests,” Mahuta wrote.
Faafoi wrote back to Mahuta the following month that he continued to find Kim’s case “difficult and balanced,” and included letters from three advocacy groups opposed to the extradition.
Mahuta wrote back to say that concerns about the human rights situation in China are well known.
“Mr. Kim’s case is not a political case – his case has no connection to Xinjiang or Hong Kong, nor does it risk being used as leverage for arbitrary detention for the reasons set out in my October 6 letter,” Mahuta wrote back.
But she also protected herself by saying her role was limited to offering advice on whether New Zealand could rely on China’s assurances.
“The question of whether New Zealand should rely on these assurances is a matter for your Minister of Justice,” she wrote, emphasizing the word should.
In an interview, Kim’s lawyer Tony Ellis said it made little sense for New Zealand to try to say its client was being treated fairly in China, but also saw the need to send an expensive “minder” to make sure.
Ellis said it would be impossible for the minder to adequately monitor his client’s treatment anyway because, for example, Kim could be unknowingly administered drugs to get him to confess or be forced to deny that torture took place.
Ellis said Kim is unable to travel to China due to numerous medical problems, including major depression, a small brain tumor, and liver and kidney disease.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case has dragged on in New Zealand for 11 years, which Ellis says is its own kind of torture for his client.
Kim was first arrested in 2011 after China requested his extradition on charges of first degree murder.
He served more than five years in New Zealand prisons and spent another three years under electronic surveillance, making him the longest-serving prisoner not to be tried in modern New Zealand.
According to court documents, Kim is a South Korean citizen who moved to New Zealand with his family more than 30 years ago when he was 14.
He is accused of killing a 20-year-old waitress and sex worker, Peiyun Chen, in Shanghai after he traveled to the city to visit another woman, who was his girlfriend at the time.
Chen was found in a deserted area of Shanghai on New Year’s Eve 2009. An autopsy revealed that she had been choked to death and hit in 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. Police say a distraught Kim told an acquaintance he may have “beaten a prostitute to death.”
Kim says he is innocent. Ellis said his defense case would be that his former girlfriend, who has ties to the Communist Party, was responsible for the crime.