After weeks of silence from NZ Police over the status of a homicide investigation into the remains of two children found in suitcases in Auckland, a woman was apprehended amid darkness after a stakeout of her Korean apartment yesterday.
Seoul's National Police Agency confirmed a 42-year-old woman had been arrested in the city of Ulsan accused of murdering her two children, aged 7 and 10, in 2018 in Auckland.
NZ Police are seeking to extradite the woman through the Korean courts to face two charges of murder.
As the 42-year-old was yesterday leaving Ulsan police station to be transported to Seoul, ushered by authorities, she was photographed with a hooded jacket pulled over her face.
The woman repeatedly said "I didn't do it", Korean outlet Yonhap News Agency reported.
The woman was arrested at 1am Korean time (4am NZ time) on September 15, in Ulsan - a port city on Korea's southeast coast with a population of 1.1 million.
"Police arrested the suspect at an apartment in Ulsan on Thursday following a stakeout with tips on her whereabouts and CCTV footage," Seoul's National Police Agency said in a statement.
"The suspect is accused by the New Zealand Police of having murdered two of her children, aged 7 and 10 then, in around 2018 in the Auckland area," it said.
"She's been found to have arrived in South Korea after the crime and has been in hiding ever since."
South Korean news website Chosun.com was also reporting that the children who died were a boy and girl. Their genders or date of birth had not been reported until yesterday.
NZ Police announced on Thursday morning the woman had been arrested after they requested an arrest warrant be issued by the Korean courts for the woman under the extradition treaty.
Korean and New Zealand police in conjunction with Interpol managed to track the whereabouts of the woman in Ulsan via her medical records and phone number, many Korean media outlets are reporting.
Detective inspector Tofilau Fa'amanuia Vaaelua said NZ Police applied to have her extradited back to New Zealand to face murder charges and requested she remain in custody while awaiting completion of the extradition process.
"To have someone in custody overseas within such a short period of time has all been down to the assistance of the Korean authorities and the co-ordination by our NZ Police Interpol staff," Vaaelua said.
"In the meantime, there is a number of inquiries to be completed both in New Zealand and overseas."
Vaaelua said the investigation had received ongoing assistance from the South Korean Ministry of Justice, the South Korean Prosecution Service and the Korean National Police Agency.
The homicide investigation was launched after the remains of two primary school-aged children were uncovered on August 11 in suitcases bought by the occupants of a property on Moncrieff Ave, Manurewa.
The suitcases were bought by the Manurewa residents unwittingly as part of an online auction for the abandoned contents of a storage unit in another South Auckland suburb.
NZ Police later confirmed the bodies of the children in the suitcases had likely been stored in the Papatoetoe Safe Store storage facility for three to four years before being discovered.
Immigration records show that the woman arrested over the murders had arrived in Korea in July 2018.
NZ Police have still not confirmed the 42-year-old who was arrested is the mother of the two children.
However, South Korean police say the woman was born in South Korea and later moved to New Zealand, where she gained citizenship.
South Korean police say it was suspected she could be the mother of the two victims, as her past address in New Zealand was registered to the storage unit where the suitcases were kept for years.
The woman now remains in custody in South Korea and will undergo a review at the Seoul High Court over whether she should be extradited, said Park Seung-hoon, an official at the National Police Agency. Park said a date hadn't yet been set but the review must take place within two months.
Korean police plan to hand over the woman to Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office and an extradition review will be conducted at Seoul High Court.
At this High Court hearing, it will be decided if the woman will be extradited back to New Zealand.
"Police would also like to acknowledge the overwhelming support from the public since the commencement of a very challenging investigation," Vaaelua said.
"As the matter is now before the court, police are not in a position to make any further comment."
The vice-president of the Korean Society of New Zealand, Mijin Kim, said it was a sad day for the local Kiwi-Korean community.
"We are so sorry to hear about what happened to the children," Kim said.
"I think this highlights the need for greater support for those in need of mental health help, both from the Government and also from within our communities."
Human rights and criminal barrister Dr Tony Ellis, who has a long history of working on extradition cases, said the police investigation into the Manurewa suitcase homicides had likely yielded substantial evidence for the arrest warrant to materialise so quickly.
"Well you don't know how long they've been working on it [arrest warrant], and what evidence they've got, so presumably they're [NZ Police] feeling pretty confident," he said.
Ellis said it can often take years to gather enough evidence for an arrest warrant and proceed through a public hearing in the relevant country to obtain an extradition order.
While New Zealand and the Republic of Korea do have an extradition treaty, he said yesterday that this did not necessarily mean the process would be successful.
"Just because you've got a treaty it doesn't mean you're going to allow your citizens to be extradited. You can see with Mr [Kim] Dotcom how long it's taken," Ellis said.
"You need to have an arrest warrant to send to the foreign country to get the extradition on the basis of an offence. Basically, the offence needs to be something where there's imprisonment of over one year and the offence is a mirror image in both countries. There's obviously murder everywhere."
Ellis said estimating the length of time for potential extradition was a bit like the question, "how long is a piece of string?".
"It may be a year. It could be a month, depending on whether people put up any defence on these things ... The other significant factor is how much money have they got. Because depending on that, you can hire a good lawyer or not."