WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Sending a murder suspect to face trial in China could end up costing New Zealand taxpayers millions of dollars because officials would need to post an extra diplomat to Shanghai to monitor his treatment, documents exclusively obtained by The Associated Press show.
But the documents also show that New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta is confident Chinese authorities won't torture the suspect or give him an unfair trial because of the bad publicity it would bring the Communist government, in what would amount to a test case that would be closely watched worldwide.
New Zealand’s Supreme Court in April ruled that Kyung Yup Kim could be extradited to China in a landmark judgment that goes against the trend set by most democratic nations, which have blocked extraditions to China due to concerns that prisoners are often tortured into making confessions, can't get fair trails and face undue hardships if found guilty and incarcerated.
Following the 3-2 court decision, it remains up to Justice Minister Kiri Allan to decide whether to send Kim to China. In a statement to the AP, Allan said she is first taking legal advice on a complaint made by Kim's lawyers to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
In documents obtained by the AP through New Zealand's public records laws, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade outlined the potential cost of sending Kim to China.
They estimate that if convicted, Kim would likely spend more than a decade in prison and that for New Zealand officials to be able to visit him every two days during his trial and every 15 days thereafter would have “long-term resource implications.”
They say they would need to post an extra senior consular official to Shanghai to monitor Kim, and estimate the cost for the first year at 377,000 New Zealand dollars ($234,000), which would cover relocation costs as well as a salary.
“After the investigative and trial phase, and if Mr. Kim is convicted, the secondment of a senior consular official may have to be made permanent in order to meet expectations around monitoring,” one official wrote in an email.
China's Foreign Ministry, in a written response to the AP, said it was not aware of New Zealand's plans to post someone to Shanghai for the case.
The two countries have been cooperating on the case for more than 10 years based on the facts and the law, and Kim's extradition to stand trial would “return justice to the victim and realize criminal justice,” the Chinese response said.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Mahuta sought to reassure previous Justice Minister Kris Faafoi that China would abide by its commitment 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 the concerns she had about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang region, the “regressive" national security law enacted in Hong Kong, and China's three-year detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on “spurious charges."
“This will be a test case for China — one the international community is watching closely,” Mahuta wrote in her letter to Faafoi.
“This means that China's incentives to abide by the assurances are strong. If China failed to comply with the assurances, we could disclose that information publicly, 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 saying he continued to find Kim's case “difficult and finely balanced" and enclosed letters from three advocacy organizations opposed to the extradition.
Mahuta wrote back to say the concerns about the human rights situation in China were well known.
“Mr. Kim's case is not a political case — his case does not have any connection to Xinjiang or Hong Kong, nor is he a risk of being used as leverage in arbitrary detention for the reasons set out in my 6 October letter,” Mahuta wrote back.
But she also hedged by saying her role was limited to providing advice on whether New Zealand could rely on China's assurances.
“The question of whether New Zealand should rely on those assurances is a matter for you as minister of justice,” she wrote, emphasizing the word should.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry response said China's judicial system can fully protect the legal rights of the accused and that hundreds of suspects have been extradited from countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
"This fully demonstrates the confidence of the international society in China’s judicial system,” it said.
In an interview, Kim's lawyer, Tony Ellis, said it made little sense that New Zealand was trying to say his client would be treated fairly in China but also saw the need to post an expensive “minder” to make sure.
Ellis said it would be impossible for a minder to adequately monitor his client's treatment because Kim could, for instance, be unknowingly administered drugs to make him confess or be forced to deny torture was taking place.
Ellis said Kim was in no fit state to travel to China because of numerous medical issues he was suffering, including severe depression, a small brain tumor, and liver and kidney disease.
The case has already dragged on in New Zealand for 11 years, which Ellis said amounts to its own kind of torture for his client.
Kim was first arrested in 2011 after China asked to extradite him on one count of intentional homicide.
He was incarcerated in New Zealand jails for more than five years, and spent another three years on electronic monitoring, making him the longest-serving prisoner not to face a trial in modern New Zealand.
According to court documents, Kim is a South Korean citizen who moved to New Zealand more than 30 years ago with his family when he was 14.
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 she had been strangled to death, and that she had also been 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 Communist Party connections, is responsible for the crime.
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.