• Kyodo

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Nine Japanese students accused of assaulting and kidnapping a fellow student who was found dead at their Auckland-based academy last month will now face murder charges, police in New Zealand said Wednesday.

The students, aged between 17 and 26, are expected to be charged in court Thursday with the murder of 22-year-old Nozomu Shinozaki, whose body was found with head injuries by emergency services workers at the Columbus Academy in West Harbor, West Auckland, on Feb. 26, a police spokeswoman told Kyodo News.

Shinozaki’s parents, who arrived in New Zealand from Yokohama shortly after his death, have cremated his body and returned his ashes to Japan, she said.

The New Zealand government is conducting a top-level inquiry into the performing arts academy for troubled Japanese youths. The probe involves immigration, health, education and employment officials after it was discovered the facility wasn’t registered as a health or education provider.

However, the investigation has been seriously hampered by what has been characterized as “a lack of cooperation” by academy staff and by missing records, Education Minister Trevor Mallard said last week.

Academy director Katsuo Kanamori, 49, has been accused of attempting to obstruct justice after allegedly telling his students not to cooperate with the police.

The accused students are Kazuhiro Sato, 19; Ryu Fukushima, 22; Ryuji Hiraki, 26; Hidetaka Nishide, 26; Masato Fujita, 19; Motomu Kobori, 19; Daisuke Fukuda, 20; Tomohisa Kato, 17; and Nobu Oshima, 18.

Shinozaki entered New Zealand as a visitor and without a visa in 1997, Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel has said. He was then granted student visas for two other educational institutions, which had expired at the time of his death, she said. Shinozaki was in the process of appealing an Immigration Service order to leave New Zealand when he died.

Eight of the nine students charged in connection with Shinozaki’s death came to New Zealand without visas, the minister said.

The International Columbus Academy is a nonprofit organization established in Yokohama in 1989 and also has facilities in Canada and Australia. It now has about 50 students under its care at its Auckland facility, which opened in 1995.

The students study at local high schools, private language institutions or university, and some work in the academy’s two Japanese restaurants, in central Auckland and suburban Henderson.

Teachers at the local Waitakere College were so concerned about the health of their exhausted academy students, who worked late nights at the restaurants, the school refused to enroll any more at the end of 2001 and contacted the Immigration Service, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The restaurants have been closed since Shinozaki’s death.

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