A court case was adjourned today to allow Interpol time to investigate whether a fisherman accused of dumping fish at sea is dead or alive.
The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) was ridiculed earlier this month for trying to prosecute Soon Ill Hwang, a Korean officer of trawler Oyang 77, after it was claimed that he'd died in a car crash.
A judge said at the time the case resembled the famous Monty Python comedy sketch involving a dead parrot.
"We can't try dead people," a bewildered Judge Gary Macaskill said.
The judge indicated he would block the prosecution, while MPI lawyers said they would challenge it with an appeal to the High Court.
But Judge Macaskill didn't lodge his objections after new evidence came to light which cast doubt over whether Mr Hwang was in fact dead.
"It's been very confusing, to say the least," Judge Brian Callaghan admitted during a hearing at Christchurch District Court today.
"Nowhere have I seen evidence to tell me that this defendant is deceased."
Lawyer Mark Dollimore produced a death notice for a Mr Hwang in court today.
It states that a Mr Hwang died of multi-organ failure after a motor vehicle accident in China earlier this year.
But the middle name is spelt slightly differently and Judge Callaghan wanted Interpol to verify it relates to the defendant.
Crown prosecutor Christopher Lange said that normally if someone dies during a trial, police will verify it, it's accepted and "there's no real issue".
"But we're in a slightly different situation here," he said.
"I've never faced a situation like I have in this case before.
"The first issue is to determine this fact of death. It is hopefully not too far away but in my experience Interpol matters take a bit more time than we're used to."
The MPI is pressing ahead with the case because a conviction could result in the forfeiture of the expensive trawler.
If it's found that Mr Hwang is in fact deceased, under Korean law his father will be represented in New Zealand court as executor of his estate.
Mr Hwang and the 39-year-old skipper of the Oyang 77, Dae Jun Lee, are jointly charged with the illegal dumping of fish at sea, including hoki, barracouta, ling and squid.
The case has been adjourned to December 17 when Interpol investigations should be complete.
- APNZBy Kurt Bayer @KurtBayerAPNZ Email Kurt