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Chile agrees extradition to France of accused in Japanese student murder

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Santiago (AFP)

Santiago's Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hand over a 29-year-old Chilean man to face trial in France for the murder of a Japanese student.

French investigators had requested the extradition of Nicolas Zepeda, who is suspected of murdering his Japanese ex-girlfriend in the eastern French city of Besancon in 2016.

"The request for passive extradition presented by the French Republic regarding the Chilean citizen Nicolas Zepeda is accepted," Supreme Court judge Jorge Dahm said in a ruling.

Zepeda's lawyers said they will appeal.

Narumi Kurosaki, 21, went missing from her university residence in Besancon, a town near the Alps, after having dinner with Zepeda, her ex-boyfriend.

Zepeda, a teaching assistant, had returned to Chile by the time her disappearance was reported several days later.

- Body never found -

Investigators believe Kurosaki was killed by Zepeda in a jealous rage but her body was never found despite extensive searches.

France issued an international warrant for his arrest but a Chilean judge threw out a request to arrest him in February 2017, citing insufficient evidence.

Besancon prosecutor Etienne Manteaux announced last October that his office had sent an extradition request to Chilean authorities via the French government.

Manteaux told AFP in Besancon on Thursday he was "very grateful" to the Chilean justice system "for the seriousness with which it examined the case".

Asked about the appeal by the suspect's lawyers, Manteaux said he was "very respectful of the functioning of Chilean justice."

Thursday's ruling "is an extremely important first step in any case."

If the extradition goes ahead, Zepeda would be returned to France and "formally placed under investigation".

He was questioned in April last year by a Chilean judge in the presence of French investigators, including Manteaux. Zepeda denies any hand in Kurosaki's disappearance.

Kurosaki disappeared on the night of December 4, 2016. She was last seen dining with Zepeda at a restaurant a short drive from Besancon.

In the early hours of the following morning, fellow students heard cries and thuds coming from the area of her room but her disappearance was not reported for several days, by which time Zepeda had returned to Chile.

- Video threat -

Zepeda, who had threatened Kurosaki in a video posted online which he later removed, admits going to her room on the night of her death for what he described as consensual sex and says he left straight afterwards.

The pair met in 2014 in Japan, where Zepeda was a student, and a year later began a relationship that ended after Kurosaki moved to France in August 2016.

In Besancon, Kurosaki entered a new relationship, a development which "clearly exasperated Nicolas Zepeda," according to Manteaux.

Investigators said that in the days before her disappearance, Zepeda flew to France, hired a car and drove to Besancon, stopping on the way to buy matches, flammable liquid and bleach at a supermarket.

When he returned his hire car three days after Kurosaki's disappearance, it was "very dirty" with soil found on the driver's side and in the trunk, Manteaux said.

For several days after her disappearances, messages continued to be sent from Kurosaki's phone to her friends and family, including messages in Japanese.

A Japanese friend of Zepeda told police he had asked her to translate sentences into Japanese, which later appeared in one of the messages sent from the missing woman's phone.

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