A Hong Kong court has jailed a man who admitted to killing his pregnant girlfriend while they were on trip to Taiwan – though he was sentenced for money laundering, not murder.

Chan Tong-kai, 20, received a prison sentence of 29 months on Monday. However, he has already been detained for 13 months since his arrest in Hong Kong, meaning his sentence will end next August.

Secretary for Security John Lee told reporters that Chan could be released as early as October, since good behaviour in prison can result in a one-third reduction of a prisoner’s sentence.

Chan Tong Kai
Chan Tong-kai (far side).

Hong Kong authorities arrested Chan last year after he returned from Taiwan. He admitted to killing his 20-year-old Hong Kong girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing during the trip, but authorities were unable to charge him with murder in local courts.

Chan earlier this month pleaded guilty to four charges of money-laundering, in relation to money and valuables he took from his deceased girlfriend.

The Hong Kong government has used Chan’s case to push for an amendment to extradition laws, which would allow for case-by-case transfers to jurisdictions without prior agreement.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters that she hoped the Legislative Council could pass the bill before lawmakers break for summer. She also urged lawmakers to select a chairperson and vice-chairperson of the bills committee – a task that was left unfulfilled earlier this month.

John Lee
Secretary for Security John Lee. File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“The bill that has been submitted to the legislature has a real urgency – there is not a second to lose,” she said.

Lam added that she knew the amendment would be controversial, and that she hoped the bill’s vetting process in the Legislative Council could assuage public doubts.

‘Great frustration’

On Monday, judge Anthea Pang said that she could only sentence Chan on the basis of money laundering, not murder. Pang set the starting point for the sentence as 39 months, but reduced it because of Chan’s guilty plea.

“It is understandable that great frustration and a genuine sense of unfairness, to say the least, would be felt when an accused’s admission about killing someone outside this jurisdiction could not be a basis to bring a murder or manslaughter charge in Hong Kong,” she said.

“However, justice equally demands that an accused is to be sentenced on the basis of the offences with which he has been charged and of which he has been convicted, not on any other offences or matters, albeit matters which may disclose much greater criminality than the offences charged.”

high court
File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Chan is entitled to “the full protection of his rights associated with a fair trial,” Pang added. “If it were otherwise, it would mean short-circuiting our criminal procedure and this affects not only the accused, but also the integrity of our entire criminal justice system.”

The prosecutor told reporters that the Department of Justice will study the ruling.

As he was leaving the High Court, Chan’s lawyer Ronny Leung would not answer questions on the sentence or the possibility of appeal. Asked if Chan was worried about being extradited to Taiwan, Leung did not respond.

While the government still expects the bill to pass before July, lawmakers from both the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps have viewed Chan’s imprisonment as a brief respite.

ronny leung
Lawyer Ronny Leung, who represents Chan Tong-kai. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung from the Business and Professionals Alliance said that, in the short term, the pressure “was not as high as it was.”

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said that the imprisonment meant that the government has ample time to refine its solution to Chan’s case, adding that it should listen to opinions from the local and international community.

The debate over the legal amendments will continue in the legislature this week, following a large protest over the weekend.

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.