Taiwan murder suspect jailed in HK for money laundering

April 30, 2019 14:21
Chan Tong-kai (inset, left), accompanied by a law enforcement officer, is pictured inside a government vehicle after hearing his sentencing on money laundering charges at the High Court on Monday. Photo: HKEJ

A young Hong Kong man who is wanted for murder in Taiwan and triggered a controversial move by the Hong Kong government to revise its extradition law was on Monday sentenced to jail by a local court on money laundering charges. 

Chan Tong-kai, 20, who admitted to killing his girlfriend, also a Hongkonger, during a 2018 Taiwan trip but has evaded arrest in the island by fleeing to Hong Kong, was given a prison term of  29 months by the Hong Kong High Court after being tried in the city for money laundering.

Unable to prosecute Chan for the murder as the crime took place outside Hong Kong, and as there was no evidence that the crime was premeditated in Hong Kong, prosecutors had laid charges of money laundering against the youth.

The charges became possible as Chan had confessed to withdrawing money using the dead girlfriend's bank cards and possessing her valuables.

As Hong Kong did not have an extradition arrangement with Taiwan, authorities here were unable to comply with a request from Taiwan to hand him over for questioning in connection with the suspected murder.

Thus, he was tried for money laundering, which led to the sentencing on Monday.

The court heard earlier that Chan, a former associate degree student from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and his girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, then 20, a former student at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, went to Taiwan on Feb. 8 last year for a trip.

Chan returned to Hong Kong alone on Feb. 17. On March 13, the Taiwan police found Poon’s body, decomposed, in bushes near a metro station on the outskirts of Taipei.

Chan was arrested by Hong Kong police on March 13 on charges of theft and handling stolen goods as he was found in possession of some goods, including a phone, that had belonged to Poon.

The prosecution later changed the charges against Chan to four counts of money laundering as it was confirmed that the young man had withdrawn money from Poon's bank accounts.

Announcing her ruling on Monday, Judge Anthea Pang Po-kam said that although there may be a "genuine sense of unfairness" that prosecutors could not bring a case against Chan for "a most heinous crime", Chan was entitled to a fair trial and the charges currently against him are only in relation to money laundering, and not murder.

The judge added that if the fundamental principle cannot be upheld, the "integrity of the entire criminal justice system" would be affected.

Justifying the sentence handed to Chan, Pang said the defendant had committed a serious offense as he took the belongings of a person he killed. She noted that Chan knew that the property he handled stemmed from serious crime.

Even if the property did not carry a high value, the court needed to give a heavy punishment to him, the judge said.

Chan, who has been in detention for 13 months since his arrest, is expected to get out of jail as soon as this October if he continues to behave well in prison, as well as further deductions as a result of holidays, as per the government’s estimation.

With a murder suspect escaping justice in Taiwan, the Hong Kong government used the case as a justification for seeking to amend the city's extradition law.

Authorities in February tabled proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance in the Legislative Council.

Once the law is revised, it will empower the Hong Kong government to hand over criminal suspects to Taiwan and mainland China on a case-by-case basis.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, speaking to the media after the jail sentence for Chan, noted that Chan could walk out of prison as soon as October, and hence it is urgent to pass laws that would allow the Hong Kong government to surrender him to Taiwan.

"At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves whether we will continue to tolerate this loophole in our system on the return of fugitive offenders to the extent that we will be making Hong Kong a haven for all these offenders of serious crimes from all over the world,” Lam said, adding that she hoped the Legislative Council will pass the amendment bill before the summer recess in July.

Lawyer Ronny Leung Yiu-wai, who is representing Chan, revealed outside the court on Monday that he has not received any instruction from his client on lodging an appeal against the jail term.

Leung did not respond when asked if Chan is worried that he could be extradited to Taiwan.

Chief Executive Lam told reporters ahead of a weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday that if lawmakers put forth feasible ideas, which also serve the goal of law revision, on the extradition laws amendments proposal, the administration will consider them seriously and solemnly.

Lam added that the Taiwan request to extradite a murder suspect has not "fallen on deaf ears", RTHK reported.

The government will continue to communicate with the island over the matter, Lam said.

As for a request from the pro-democracy camp for a meeting over the planned extradition laws changes, Lam said if the pan-dem lawmakers are just hoping to force her to withdraw the proposal, a meeting would serve "no purpose".

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