Accused murderer at center of extradition law fight sentenced to 29 months for laundering

Chan Tong-kai (left) and his then-girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing (right), whom he stands accused of murdering in Taiwan last February. Photo via Facebook.
Chan Tong-kai (left) and his then-girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing (right), whom he stands accused of murdering in Taiwan last February. Photo via Facebook.

A Hong Kong man at the center of a roaring debate over the city’s extradition laws was sentenced to 29 months in jail today on money laundering charges, with lawmakers and government officials already debating what the sentence means for the fate of the controversial legislation.

Chan Tong-kai, 20, is wanted in Taiwan for murdering his then-girlfriend, Poon Hui-wing, 20, during a Valentine’s Day getaway to the self-governed island last year. Chan had admitted to police that he had bashed Poon’s head against a wall, then strangled her to death after she revealed to him that she was carrying another man’s child.

He then stuffed her body in a suitcase, dumped it in a remote park outside of Taipei, and returned to Hong Kong.

Chan’s sentence stems from several ATM withdrawals he made in Hong Kong using Poon’s bank card, which he stole along with her phone and camera, the Standard reports.

Local courts were unable to charge him for the murder, however, as it took place outside of their jurisdiction.

Judge Anthea Pang said “great frustration and a serious sense of unfairness” should not overshadow the fact that the case was a money laundering prosecution, not a murder trial. She said sentencing someone for a crime they are not convicted of would mean “short circuiting” the justice system.

Hong Kong’s current laws explicitly forbid extradition to “the Central People’s Government or the government of any other part of the People’s Republic of China,” including Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province under its One China policy.

Chan’s case prompted the government to propose amending the extradition laws to allow him to be returned to Taiwan — and to allow Hong Kong to return fugitives to the mainland as well. The proposed change sparked fierce resistance from the city’s pro-democracy camp and business community, who say the law will jeopardize not only dissidents wanted by Beijing, but also Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe place for international corporations to do business.

Nonetheless, prior to Chan’s sentencing, government figures had urged lawmakers to rush through the legal changes, warning that Chan could walk free and flee prosecution for the murder entirely if he received a shorter sentence on the laundering charges. (Chan has already served 13 months, which would be credited against his sentence.)

Activists protest a controversial plan by Hong Kong's government to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland on Sunday. Photo via AFP.
Activists protest a controversial plan by Hong Kong’s government to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland on Sunday. Photo via AFP.

Controversy surrounding the law reached a fever pitch over the weekend, when tens of thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets to protest the amendments.

Now that Chan will remain safely behind bars for many months yet, officials and lawmakers have already begun clashing over whether the legal amendments can be held up until a consensus is reached.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, insisted today that the passage of the law was still urgent in spite of the lengthy sentence, and told lawmakers to enact the legislation before their summer break in July, RTHK reports.

“We have to ask ourselves whether we will continue to tolerate this loophole in our system, in the return of fugitive offenders. To the extent that we’ll make Hong Kong a haven for these offenders of serious crimes all over the world,” she said.

However, at least one pro-establishment lawmaker has questioned the urgency of the legal changes in light of the sentencing, according to the Standard. Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Priscilla Leung said the lengthier sentence took some of the pressure off of legislators, and would allow them to discuss further changes to the bill.

Still, she urged her pro-democratic colleagues, who have fought to stall the bill in the Legislative Council, to credibly debate potential changes rather than “vent their emotions.”

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