Seoul to extradite New Zealand murder suspect within 30 days

FILE - A woman sits on a car as she leaves Ulsan Jungbu police station in Ulsan, South Korea on Sept. 15, 2022, for the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office. A New Zealand murder suspect will be extradited to her country within 30 days, about two months after she was arrested in South Korea for possible links to two dead children found in suitcases in Auckland, officials said Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (Bae Byung-soo/Newsis via AP, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea will extradite a New Zealand murder suspect within 30 days, about two months after she was arrested in South Korea in connection with two dead children found in suitcases in Auckland, officials said Monday.

South Korean Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon issued the order for the extradition of the 42-year-old woman, surnamed Lee, to New Zealand, the ministry said in a statement.

In making the decision, Han considered a Seoul court’s recent approval of the extradition, her New Zealand citizenship, the site of the crime, and South Korean national interests, the ministry statement said.

Han had the final decision on whether to send her to New Zealand after the Seoul High Court on Friday endorsed her extradition. Court officials said the woman earlier agreed in writing to be sent back to New Zealand.

Han ordered officials to hand over evidence obtained during the woman's arrest to New Zealand authorities as well, the ministry said.

The Justice Ministry and Seoul prosecutors will consult with New Zealand authorities on the exact timing of the extradition within the next 30 days, it said.

South Korean police arrested the woman in September based on a domestic court warrant issued after New Zealand requested her provisional arrest. New Zealand’s Justice Ministry then requested her extradition.

New Zealand police said the South Korean warrant for the suspect’s arrest was related to two murder charges. The children’s bodies were discovered in August after a New Zealand family bought abandoned goods, including two suitcases, from a storage unit in an online auction. New Zealand police said the family had nothing to do with the deaths. They said the children were between 5 and 10 years old and had been dead for years when their bodies were found in the suitcases.

South Korean police said the woman was born in South Korea and later moved to New Zealand, where she gained citizenship. Immigration records show she returned to South Korea in 2018.

South Korean police suspected that she could be the mother of the two children, as her past address in New Zealand was registered to the storage unit where the suitcases were kept.