A murder suspect whose case sparked a political crisis over an extradition agreement has left prison after serving an 18-month sentence for a related crime. His release came amid a row between Hong Kong and Taiwan over how to handle the case.

Twenty-year-old Chan Tong-kai admitted to killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan last February, before fleeing to Hong Kong, where he is a permanent resident. Chan could not be charged with murder in Hong Kong courts, and could not be extradited to Taiwan as there was no legal agreement between the two jurisdictions.

Chan Tong-kai Taiwan murder suspect released prison
Chan Tong-kai is released from prison on October 23. Photo: Stand News.

Instead, Chan was jailed in April on money laundering charges in relation to cash and valuables he took from his deceased girlfriend – Poon Hiu-wing, 19.

In a letter to the chief executive from his prison cell, he wrote that he was willing to go to Taiwan and face justice.

‘Unamendable wrong’

Chan completed his sentence and walked out of the Pik Uk Prison in Sai Kung at 9am on Wednesday. Upon leaving, he bowed and apologised to his late girlfriend and her family.

“I understand that I have done unamendable wrong, and I have caused great pain to Hiu-wing’s family,” he said.

“I am willing to surrender myself to Taiwan to stand a trial and serve my sentence. I hope her family can find relief in this and Hiu-wing can rest in peace.”

Chan Tong-kai Taiwan murder suspect released prison
Chan Tong-kai is released from prison on October 23. Photo: Stand News.

Chan did not answer questions from reporters as he left in a van. He was accompanied by Anglican Reverend Peter Koon, who said he had persuaded Chan to surrender himself to Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s government used Chan’s case to put forward an extradition bill which would have resolved the legal impasse preventing him from being charged with murder. But the proposed amendment would also have enabled fugitive transfers from the city to other jurisdictions with poor human rights records, including mainland China.

The bill – which Lam agreed to withdraw last month – has sparked the city’s worst civil unrest in decades. Since June, large-scale street protests have grown into a citywide movement calling for greater accountability for handling of the crisis and democratic reform.

October 20 mask ban china extradition protest
Photo: Studio Incendo.

Taiwan has accused Hong Kong of “demeaning its sovereignty” because it refused to pass evidence onto the island’s prosecutors. Hong Kong’s lack of official cooperation was a sign that the city does not treat Taiwan as a separate jurisdiction from China, the island’s authorities said. Taiwan has said it would not allow Chan to enter unless mutual legal assistance was set up.

But on Tuesday, Taiwanese authorities agreed to allow Chan to enter the island to face trial on the condition that their officials could escort him from Hong Kong.

“If [Chan] escapes the law, we are afraid that he may flee, and he may collude with others to fabricate evidence or destroy evidence,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said. “If such an outcome were to occur, the Hong Kong government would be totally responsible.”

Chiu Chui-cheng
Mainland Affairs Council’s Chiu Chui-cheng. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/VOA/Zhang Yongtai.

Hong Kong has denied Taiwan’s request to receive officers to accompany Chan out of the city.

“[T]he HKSAR government sees it as cross-jurisdiction law enforcement, which is [disrespectful to] Hong Kong’s jurisdictional power and is totally unacceptable,” it said in a statement. “The authority of Taiwan has no law enforcement power in Hong Kong. Chan is Taiwan’s wanted person and his surrender decision is voluntary.”

Hong Kong’s government said Taiwan has jurisdiction over the case and should allow Chan to enter.

“Upon arrival, the authority of now [is] that Chan voluntarily surrenders himself, why should one still be concerned that he will abscond and destroy evidence?” it said.

The Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

The government added that Hong Kong’s Department of Justice had thoroughly investigated the case and collected evidence. It confirmed there was not enough evidence to try Chan in Hong Kong for attempting to commit murder.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council criticised Hong Kong’s statement in the early hours of Wednesday.

“[Hong Kong] proposes to allow the suspect to fly to Taiwan by himself – this ignores the safety of tourists on the same flight, and only serves the political goal and arrangement of the suspect to ‘surrender.’ It is ridiculous to allow Chan to walk free, which makes Hong Kong a haven for criminals,” it said.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.