Secretary for Security John Lee has criticised Taiwan for “disrespecting Hong Kong’s jurisdiction” over a controversial murder case, and said the responsibility would lie with Taipei if the suspect was not brought to justice.

Lee on Wednesday accused the self-ruled island of playing politics over Chan Tong-kai, whose case sparked a months-long political crisis in Hong Kong. A fresh diplomatic row broke out between Hong Kong and Taiwan over Chan’s uncertain fate after prison, with neither side eager to take charge of Chan after his release earlier that day.

Secretary for Security John Lee. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“In what was originally a straightforward surrender [by a wanted criminal], Taiwan has created many roadblocks out of political considerations. The intent is plainly to shift the responsibility to the Hong Kong government,” Lee told reporters.

“Taiwan keeps changing its position… if justice cannot be done in this case, the responsibility lies wholly with Taiwan.”

Earlier, Taiwanese President Tsai ing-wen said that Chan could only be arrested, but could not surrender himself. Tsai floated the idea of sending law enforcement officials to Hong Kong to bring Chan to Taiwan, but on Wednesday Lee said he was unaware of any such officials in Hong Kong.

Tsai Ing-wen. File Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Lee denounced Tsai’s idea as “completely unacceptable” and disrespectful of Hong Kong’s jurisdiction, saying that only Hong Kong law enforcement have legal authority to operate in the city.

20-year-old Chan admitted to killing his girlfriend in Taiwan last February, before fleeing back 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. His case triggered months of protest and unrest after Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration attempted to enact an extradition law that would have also have allowed for fugitive transfers to China.

Chan was released from jail on Wednesday after serving time on a related money laundering charge, and said that he was willing to surrender to Taiwan authorities. Anglican Reverend Peter Koon, who persuaded Chan to turn himself in, told the media that Chan will stay in Hong Kong for at least the next couple of days.

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

Lee said that the Hong Kong government could not take any coercive measures against Chan, since he had become a “free man” after his release.

“[Chan] can pick whoever he wants to accompany him to Taiwan for his surrender… and I hope that Taiwan will allow him to do so,” he added.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng tried to rebut the notion that Hong Kong was giving up its jurisdiction over the murder.

Secretary for Security John Lee and Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng. File photo:

“We made a professional and impartial decision over whether to prosecute,” Cheng said on Wednesday, adding that Hong Kong follows a legal principle that restricts its courts to only handling cases that took place within Hong Kong territory.

Cheng also pledged to offer legal assistance to the Taiwanese side in terms of evidence. “In this case, the suspect said he was willing to face his legal responsibility in Taiwan, so he has autonomy to decide what evidence to provide to the Taiwanese authorities,” she added.

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Holmes Chan

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.