British banker in court over grisly Hong Kong double murder

Dennis Chong
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A general view shows the J residence building in Hong Kong where two female corpses, including one in a suitcase, were found following the arrest of British banker Rurik Jutting

A general view shows the J residence building in Hong Kong where two female corpses, including one in a suitcase, were found following the arrest of British banker Rurik Jutting (AFP Photo/Nicolas Asfouri)

Hong Kong (AFP) - A British banker appeared in a Hong Kong court on Monday charged with the grisly murder of two women whose bodies were found in his upmarket apartment, one of them decomposing in a suitcase.

Rurik Jutting, a 29-year-old securities trader who until recently worked at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, had called police to his home in Wanchai district in the early hours of Saturday.

Investigators found a naked woman with knife wounds to her neck and buttocks in the living room of the flat, on the 31st floor of a plush residential block. The corpse of the other woman was discovered decaying inside a suitcase on the balcony.

Police reportedly believe the victims were sex workers.

Court documents named one of the victims as Sumarti Ningsih, listing the other as an unknown female. At least one of the women was Indonesian, the government in Jakarta said.

Jutting, a Cambridge graduate, showed no emotion as he listened to the charges against him at a magistrate's court in Wanchai. He was taken to jail to await his next hearing on November 10.

Heavily-built and bearded, he wore a black T-shirt and dark-rimmed glasses in court. He spoke only twice to confirm he understood the charges before police escorted him from the packed courtroom.

- 'Academically gifted' -

Jutting was a pupil at the exclusive English boarding school Winchester College before studying history and law at Cambridge University, with former classmates saying he excelled academically.

"He seemed like a normal guy, although he kept pretty much to himself," said one former Cambridge acquaintance.

"The thing that stood out about him was that he was academically extremely talented," she added, describing him as "very, very ambitious".

Classmates also remembered him as intensely athletic, having been a member of the prestigious rowing club at Cambridge.

"He was a tough guy. He had a rower mentality of pushing himself," said one former Winchester pupil. "A classic banker, I guess."

Another Winchester classmate described him as "clever but socially awkward".

Police were scouring thousands of photographs stored on Jutting's mobile phone, including some showing one of the corpses wrapped in a carpet inside a suitcase on the balcony, the South China Morning Post reported.

Jutting recently left his job at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

"We had an employee by that name but he recently left the firm," a company spokesman told AFP, declining to say whether Jutting resigned or had been sacked.

The banker posted on his Facebook page last week that he was embarking on a "new journey".

"Stepping down from the ledge. Burden lifted; new journey begins. Scared and anxious but also excited. The first step is always the hardest," he wrote last Monday.

- Body in suitcase -

"There's a possibility that both victims are Indonesian," Indonesia's consul-general in Hong Kong, Chalief Akbar, told AFP. "We are still waiting for confirmation from the police."

Consulate officials said Ningsih, 25, had come to Hong Kong on September 1 and overstayed her one-month tourist visa.

Wanchai is known for its late-night drinking holes popular with expatriate revellers, and is home to a thriving red light district where sex workers, many of them from Southeast Asia, ply their trade.

The second victim, who has not been formally named, was known in local bars.

"She used to come here as a customer, for drinks, for lunch," said one waitress at Wanchai's Queen Victoria pub.

"She was a very nice girl."

Officers said earlier that maggots were found in the corpse hidden in a suitcase, which appeared to have been there for several days.

"This body belonged to a person who has passed away for quite some time," police assistant district commander Wan Siu-hung told reporters.

A resident said a "disgusting" smell had been emanating from the building.

"It was the smell of a dead body," the man, who lived on the 11th floor and refused to give his name, told AFP.

At Monday's brief 15-minute hearing, Jutting's lawyer Martyn Richmond complained that his client was denied contact with British consular officials for 36 hours, as well as access to his preferred defence attorney. Jutting did not seek bail.

Hong Kong, a city of seven million, has low crime rates and only 14 cases of homicide were reported in the first half of the year.