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Extradition of Chilean accused of murdering Japanese ex-girlfriend begins

Police drive Nicolas Zepeda (C), suspected in the disappearance of a Japanese student in France in 2016, to the airport to be extradited to France
Police drive Nicolas Zepeda (C), suspected in the disappearance of a Japanese student in France in 2016, to the airport to be extradited to France FRANCESCO DEGASPERI AFP
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Santiago (AFP)

After more than three years evading French prosecutors, Chilean police on Wednesday began the extradition to France of Nicolas Zepeda, accused of murdering his Japanese ex-girlfriend in the French city of Besancon in 2016.

Police escorted the 29-year-old from the seaside resort of Vina del Mar, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago, where he had been under house arrest, at 8:41 pm (0041 GMT Thursday) to begin the journey to the airport ahead of schedule.

He is expected to be handed over to French authorities at the Santiago international airport, and is due to board an Air France flight at 2:55 pm (1855 GMT) Thursday bound for Paris.

Narumi Kurosaki, then 21, vanished from her university in Besancon, near the French Alps in December 2016 after eating with Zepeda.

He had returned to Chile by the time her disappearance was reported days later.

French investigators believe he killed Kurosaki in a jealous rage -- but her body was never found, despite extensive searches.

Zepeda has been under house arrest with police surveillance in Vina del Mar.

His extradition will end a legal process in Chile that began in March when authorities finally accepted a request from French prosecutors to hand him over.

The process was delayed and complicated by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the closing of borders.

This will be the third extradition of a Chilean to France, and comes even though French authorities refuse to send former Chilean guerrilla Ricardo Palma Salamanca back to his homeland to stand trial for the 1991 murder of right-wing senator Jaime Guzman, who was close to several members of President Sebastian Pinera's cabinet.

"The Zepeda case is of a criminal nature and gender violence is not a political trial nor does it compromise the political relations between Chile and France," analyst Rene Jara, from Santiago University, told AFP.

"The priorities have changed and what's given preference now is maintaining relationships with strategic partners," added Jara.

- 'We will never forgive' -

The plane is expected to land at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris at 10:55 am (1255 GMT) on Friday.

Zepeda, the only suspect in the case, will then be transferred to Besancon to stand trial.

"Three years have passed since my beloved daughter disappeared ... I pray that Nicolas will be tried in France, I would give my life for this," said Kurosaki's mother Taeko in a moving letter presented to the court in Chile.

"We will never forgive Nicolas, who took Narumi's life and her from the whole family."

According to investigators, Zepeda went to Besancon at the beginning of December 2016 to see his former girlfriend.

On the evening of December 4, the pair entered her residence together.

French prosecutors say several students heard "howls of terror, cries" that night, but nobody called the police.

Zepeda, the son of a wealthy Chilean family, met Kurosaki in Japan in 2014.

At the time of her disappearance, the pair had broken up and she was in a new relationship, which prosecutors said angered Zepeda, who threatened Kurosaki in an online video he later removed.

Investigators said that in the days before her disappearance, Zepeda flew to France, hired a car and drove to Besancon to meet her.

On the way, they said he stopped to buy matches, flammable liquid and bleach at a supermarket.

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

While the case has generated little interest in Chile it has been followed closely in both France and Japan.

Zepeda is due to be represented in France by Jacqueline Laffont, who once defended former France president Nicolas Sarkozy in a corruption case.

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