• Kyodo, Jiji

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A French court could begin the trial of a Chilean man suspected of murdering his former Japanese girlfriend, who went missing in Besancon, eastern France, in 2016, possibly this fall following the effective conclusion of the investigation process, French prosecutors said Tuesday.

Nicolas Zepeda Contreras, 30, has denied killing Narumi Kurosaki whom he dated in Japan in the mid-2010s, saying he was not involved in the disappearance and believes she is still alive, prosecutor Etienne Manteaux told a news conference in Besancon.

Kurosaki came to France as an exchange student in September 2016.

French authorities launched an official murder investigation after the suspect was extradited to France from Chile in July last year. Experts have concluded that he was mentally fit, the prosecutor said.

Kurosaki, who was a student at Japan’s University of Tsukuba, has been missing since she dined with Zepeda and returned with him to her university dorm in Besancon on Dec. 4, 2016. She was 21 years old at the time.

Shortly after Kurosaki went missing, Zepeda, who had also studied at the Japanese university, returned to his native Chile.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Etienne Manteaux, a public prosecutor in Besancon, said he has asked a preliminary court judge to indict Zepeda on murder charges.

In France, in serious crime cases, preliminary court judges, who are given wider authority than prosecutors, conduct investigations and decide whether to make indictments.

In Zepeda’s case, the preliminary court judge is expected to decide whether to indict him by early February, according to Manteaux.

The prosecutor said testimonies by a cousin and an acquaintance of Zepeda and location information of a car rented by the suspect carry persuasive weight. Noting that these elements go against statements by Zepeda, who has consistently denied the charges against him, Manteaux said he could not find the explanations from the suspect convincing.

The French prosecution asked Chile to hand over Zepeda in order to bring him to justice over the alleged killing of Kurosaki, suspecting that trouble in his relationship with the woman was behind the murder.

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