British banker set for HK trial after hinting not guilty plea

HONG KONG: The British banker accused of murdering two Indonesian women, whose mutilated bodies were found in his upscale Hong Kong apartment, indicated he may plead not guilty, setting the stage for a months-long trial.

Rurik Jutting, a 30-year-old former Merrill Lynch Bank of America employee, did not officially lodge a plea at the magistrates’ court hearing, which took place after the case was adjourned last month following a prosecution request for more time.

But when magistrate Jason Wan asked: “I take it as not guilty?”, the one-time securities trader, wearing the same black T-shirt and dark-rimmed glasses as in previous hearings, replied “correct”.

The case is now committed for trial at the High Court, Wan said, without giving a specific date.

If Jutting had pleaded guilty to murder, he would have received a mandatory life sentence. A not guilty plea would lead to a jury trial that could take months, and a sentence of life in prison if convicted of the murder charges.

“If the person wanted to plead guilty, it’s the first opportunity he could do so, then the case is sent straight for sentencing in the High Court,” Jutting’s lawyer Michael Vidler told reporters outside the courtroom.

“He indicated in court that it’s not the situation,” Vidler added.

Seneng Mujiasih and Sumarti Ningsih, both in their 20s, were found dead in Jutting’s upmarket flat in the early hours of Nov 1 after he called police to the scene.

Mujiasih was found in the living room, naked and with knife wounds to her legs and buttocks, while the decaying body of Ningsih was found hours later in a suitcase on the balcony.

Simon Young, the associate dean for Hong Kong University’s Faculty of Law, said the handling of Jutting’s plea gave his legal team more time to discuss strategy.

It is “conceivable that he may try to plead guilty to manslaughter but not to murder,” he said.

The high-flying Cambridge graduate is being held at Hong Kong’s maximum security Siu Lam psychiatric prison – a walled hilltop compound on the outskirts of Hong Kong. Jutting was deemed fit to stand trial in November following psychiatric tests.

The killings shocked the city of seven million people – typically regarded as safe and known for its glitzy skyscrapers – and shone a spotlight on the seedy underbelly of the financial hub. — AFP

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