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New Zealand's first extradition bid to China faces delay

A court in New Zealand has told the government to reconsider a decision to send back to China a man accused of murder, his extradition lawyer said on Monday, highlighting the hurdles China faces in its desire to bring home alleged criminals.

The setback in China's first extradition request to New Zealand comes at a time when China is seeking to garner up international cooperation in a campaign to track down corruption suspects who have fled overseas.

In December, New Zealand agreed to extradite to Shanghai a South Korean-born resident, Kyung Yup Kim, but the Pacific country's High Court has decided the Chinese government's assurances of fair treatment for the man were not sufficient.

"To get valid assurances you need to be able to monitor and check them," his extradition lawyer, Tony Ellis, told the BBC, referring to fears over the risk of torture and an unfair trial Kim could face on his return.

A copy of the judgment was not immediately available, as the judge considered withholding some details. A spokesman for the Justice Minister Ms Adams said she could not comment because the full judgment had not been released yet.

In an affidavit in February, Adams told the court the Chinese government had assured her Kim would get a fair trial and would not face the death penalty.

It was not clear how long the government might take to reconsider, or what new assurances it might have to seek from China. The death penalty is illegal in New Zealand.

Kim faced murder charges after the discovery in a Shanghai field of the body of a 19-year-old woman who had been strangled to death. He was put in prison after China sought his extradition in 2010, after he had returned to New Zealand. Asked about the case at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Mr Hong claimed not to know anything about it. China has been seeking an extradition treaty with New Zealand since 2014.

 In April, on a visit to China, Prime Minister John Key said an extradition treaty with China was "possible", so long as extraditees did not face torture or the death penalty.

Up to 60 Chinese corruption suspects were hiding in New Zealand, Key has said. New Zealand police are investigating one of the main suspects, an Auckland-based businessman. New Zealand has given Chinese officials details of whether suspects were in New Zealand and whereabouts and their immigration status, a spokesman of the prime minister said last year.

Key suspects are thought to have already hired top lawyers ready to fight extradition.