HONG KONG (AFP) - A British banker accused of killing two Indonesian women was on Monday ruled fit to stand trial, but there will be a delay of months as prosecutors comb over forensic evidence found with the victims' mutilated bodies in his Hong Kong apartment.
Judge Bina Chainrai said Rurik Jutting, a former Bank of America Merrill Lynch employee, was mentally fit to face murder charges after two weeks of examinations at the maximum-security Siu Lam psychiatric centre.
But in a surprise decision, she also agreed to the prosecution's request to delay the trial until July 6 while the police comb through hundreds of pieces of evidence.
Jutting was charged with the murders of Seneng Mujiasih and Sumarti Ningsih after investigators found the bodies of the two women in his upmarket flat, one of them decomposing in a suitcase.
He faces life in prison if convicted of the killings.
Dressed in the same black T-shirt he had worn when he last appeared in court two weeks ago, the 29-year-old stood impassively in the dock as the judge made her ruling to a packed, but silent, courtroom.
Prosecutor Louise Wong told the court that investigators would need 28 weeks to examine some 200 pieces of evidence, including conducting DNA tests.
"We are waiting for the chemists," Wong told AFP outside the courtroom.
Chainrai had originally questioned the uncharacteristically long delay, raising her voice to object that "the norm is never seven months" after hearing the request.
She eventually conceded after Jutting's lawyers said they would not fight the adjournment, during which time he will be held in custody.
- 'A classic banker' -
Acquaintances described high-flying University of Cambridge graduate Jutting as a "very, very ambitious" and a "classic banker" who pushed himself academically and athletically.
Mujiasih and Ningsih's bodies were discovered after Jutting called police to his flat in the city's Wanchai district in the early hours of Nov 1.
Police are investigating whether they were sex workers after cocaine and sex toys were found in the apartment, just a few streets away from Hong Kong's red-light district where Jutting, until recently a securities trader for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, was reportedly a regular.
Seneng was found naked in the living room, with knife wounds on her neck and buttocks.
Sumarti's decaying body was found hours later by police, stuffed into a suitcase on the balcony. Investigators believe she was killed on Oct 27.
That same day, Jutting posted on his Facebook page 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.
The brutal killings have highlighted the huge wealth divide in Hong Kong, a city known for its famous financial sector and trendy nightlife but where a fifth of the population lives in poverty.
Both of the victims, whose bodies have been flown back to Indonesia, formerly worked in Hong Kong as domestic workers.
Rights groups say domestic workers face tough challenges in the southern Chinese city, with restrictive laws leaving them vulnerable to abuse and making it difficult to change jobs or move up the social ladder.
The case has also sparked a backlash against what some locals say is a culture of excess enjoyed by many Western expatriates who come to work in Hong Kong's financial industry.