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February 17, 2019

Missing Japanese student in France 'probably suffocated': prosecutor

Missing Japanese student in France 'probably suffocated': prosecutor
'Besancon prosecutor Etienne Manteaux said the Chilean ex-boyfriend of Japanese student Narumi Kurosaki was "more than ever considered the main suspect in this killing"' - By: AFP SEBASTIEN BOZON

A Japanese student who went missing in eastern France in 2016 was probably suffocated in her university room by her fugitive Chilean ex-boyfriend, a prosecutor said Monday.

Narumi Kurosaki, 21, disappeared in the city of Besancon on the night of December 4, 2016 after having dinner with her ex, Nicolas Zepeda.

Local prosecutor Etienne Manteaux said that investigators believed that she had been killed, but determining the cause of death was difficult because her body has not been found despite extensive searches of a nearby forested area.

No blood had been detected in her room in the university residence in Besancon where terrified cries and the sound of a physical struggle were reported by fellow students at around 3:30 am.

"Was it by suffocation? Probably. That doesn't leave blood," Manteaux told reporters in Besancon. "There are ways of killing that don't leave many traces."

He said that Zepeda, who had posted videos online threatening Kurosaki, had been jealous that she had started a new relationship with another man and was "more than ever considered the main suspect in this killing".

He also revealed that Zepeda had bought five litres of flammable liquid and matches at a supermarket days before Kurosaki disappeared and his hire car was returned covered in mud.

In their search for her body, police have focused their efforts on the vast Chaux forest area on the outskirts of Besancon, but have been unable to find any trace of the student.

Zepeda, a teaching assistant aged in his mid-twenties, left France and returned to Chile shortly after Kurosaki was last seen dining with him in a restaurant a short drive from Besancon, a town in the foothills of the Alps mountains.

He has admitted going to her room afterwards -- he claims for consensual sex -- but has denied responsibility for her disappearance.

-- Chilean 'reticence' --

Chilean authorities have so far declined to arrest him, despite an international arrest warrant issued by France, and Manteaux admitted that there had been a "certain reticence" to take action.

A Chilean judge criticised "the scarce information related to the facts and the suspect's participation in them" in February last year during a hearing.

French authorities are now set to send a request to their Chilean counterparts "in the coming weeks" to ask if a French magistrate can visit the country to interview the suspect.

"What we want now is to go to Chile to interview Mr Zepeda... and to explain to the Chilean police and judicial authorities all of the evidence against Mr Zepeda," he explained.

"We have done everything to try to find the body, without success. We need to accept that. We need to move on to the diplomatic stage," he added.

France had not sent a formal extradition request, with most countries reluctant to extradite their own nationals for trials overseas, the prosecutor explained.

Manteaux suggested the most likely conclusion was either a trial in Chile, based on evidence handed over by French authorities, or a trial in France which would judge Zepeda in absentia.

- Hope and despair -

Kurosaki's parents, who reportedly visited France last week, continue to hold out hope that their daughter might be seen again.

"For as long as the body has not been found, they continue to cling to the hope that she might be alive," Manteaux said. "For me, who has to take an objective view of the facts, this hope seems in vain."

During the press conference, Manteaux also raised the issue of why none of the roughly 10 students who heard screams on the night Kurosaki disappeared had called the police.

Some had sent text messages to friends, but no-one raised the alarm, he said.

Local police commander Regis Millet also revealed that police had been unable to access the GPS data from Zepeda's car because it had been erased by other customers by the time they inspected the vehicle.

Kurosaki, described as a smiley, gentle individual by friends, started a relationship with Zepado after they met in Japan but the couple later split.

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