National / Crime & Legal

French team in Chile to question suspect over missing Japanese student believed slain


French investigators were to arrive in Chile on Monday to question a man suspected of killing his former Japanese girlfriend, who was last seen at her university residence in France in 2016, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.

Nicolas Zepeda is the sole suspect in the disappearance of Narumi Kurosaki, 21, who went missing in the eastern French city of Besancon on the night of Dec. 4, 2016, after having dinner with her ex-boyfriend.

Her body has not been found despite extensive searches of a nearby forested area.

Authorities in France believe she was suffocated by Zepeda in a jealous rage. He has denied any role in her disappearance.

Zepeda returned to Chile before French police issued an arrest warrant but a Chilean judge rejected France’s request to have him arrested and extradited, citing insufficient evidence.

French authorities later asked if they could visit the country to interview Zepeda, a request that was granted last month.

The Besancon prosecutor, Etienne Manteaux, along with a judge overseeing the case and two police investigators are expected to participate in the questioning of Zepeda this week, the source said.

But the questions themselves will be posed by a Chilean prosecutor who will then decide whether to charge Zepeda and arrest him, in which case France would again request his extradition.

Zepeda, a teaching assistant in his mid-20s, was seen at a restaurant outside Besancon with Kurosaki on the night she disappeared.

He has admitted going to her room afterward, where he claims they had consensual sex.

Fellow students at her dormitory said they heard terrified cries and banging noises in the residence on that night but no traces of blood were found in her room.

Manteaux, the prosecutor, said last November that Zepeda had bought five litres of flammable liquid and matches at a supermarket days before Kurosaki disappeared, and that his hire car was returned covered in mud.

Zepeda had also posted videos online threatening his ex-girlfriend after she began a relationship with another man.

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.