Valentine’s murder case could see HK open up extradition to Taiwan, mainland for first time

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.

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau has proposed scrapping a clause in the SAR’s law on extradition to enable it to negotiate ad hoc cooperation agreements with mainland China and Taiwan, an arrangement that has long proven elusive.

The proposed change appeared to be prompted by the stalled case of a Hong Kong ex-student who stands accused of murdering his girlfriend during a Valentine’s trip to Taiwan last year, then returning home, where he was arrested by Hong Kong police weeks later.

Hong Kong’s current law on extradition allows it to negotiate cooperation agreements as it sees fit, but expressly forbids agreements with “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.

In a submission to the Legislative Council Panel on Security, included in a revised LegCo agenda released today, the Security Bureau recommends removing the clause, specifically citing public concerns over a miscarriage of justice in the Taiwan murder case.

The two laws concerning judicial assistance and extradition, it says, “must be amended promptly to plug their loopholes and to protect public safety.”

The case that prompted the review involves a former associate degree student, surnamed Chan, who was alleged to have strangled his girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing, 20, in their hotel during a Valentine’s trip to Taiwan last February.

He returned to Hong Kong alone, and remained free for weeks before the victim’s family contacted police saying they had lost contact with their daughter. Chan was subsequently arrested on March 13 in possession of Poon’s ATM card, which he said he had used to withdraw about HK$13,000 (around US$1,660).

The same day, Taiwanese authorities discovered the decomposing body of Poon in some bushes near a railway station. CCTV footage showed Chan leaving his hotel in Taiwan on Feb. 17 with what appeared to be a heavy suitcase believed to contain Poon’s body.

A CCTV screenshot allegedly showing a suspect removing the body of his girlfriend from a hotel in Taiwan. Handout photo.
A CCTV screenshot allegedly showing a suspect removing the body of his girlfriend from a hotel in Taiwan. Handout photo.

Chan was jailed in Hong Kong on charges of theft, and remains in custody, but authorities have been flummoxed as to how to extradite him to Taiwan to stand trial for the murder.

According to the Security Bureau, not only does the current law forbid agreements between Hong Kong and greater China, it also requires the LegCo to examine proposed extradition agreements and address them on an individual basis with subsidiary legislation. However, the process can potentially take as long as 49 days, and also involves the public disclosure of case details.

What’s more, it prevents authorities from taking any immediate action, including provisionally arresting the suspect, making it more likely that they flee.

Particularly in the case of foreigners on short-term visas, the bureau notes, as “there is no legal authority to detain such a national, he will probably abscond during LegCo’s scrutiny period, and no committal and surrender can subsequently be executed at all.”

“Therefore, the existing arrangement is considered operationally impracticable.”

Under the proposed changes to the law, Hong Kong would be allowed to negotiate ad hoc extradition agreements with the rest of China (Taiwan included), with a certificate from the chief executive activating the process in any such case. The certificate would allow police to take action immediately without alerting a suspect to any ongoing investigation.

Simon N.M. Young, a professor and associate dean with the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law, said that the proposed changes were plausible. Noting that Taiwan itself enjoys a functioning extradition agreement with the mainland, political sensitivities surrounding the self-ruled island’s sovereignty shouldn’t rule out extradition cooperation with Hong Kong.

However, the mainland has taken a hard stance on other countries’ extraditions to Taiwan in the past. In 2016, the mainland briefly suspended relations with Taiwan after it complained about its nationals being extradited from Cambodia to the mainland following their arrest there for an online extortion scheme. Taiwan at the time labeled the move “absurd.”

Still, Young said, extradition of Taiwanese nationals from Hong Kong is “not out of the question.”

However, Young noted, one potential sticking point, could be Taiwan’s application of the death penalty, which is illegal in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s extradition laws have human rights clauses that might preclude extraditing a suspect to a jurisdiction in which their life might be in jeopardy.

Still, that matter could theoretically be addressed during the ad hoc negotiations that would accompany each cooperation request, Young said.

And by limiting such agreements to a case-by-case basis, the proposed changes could avoid the hang-ups that have prevented a long-term extradition deal from being struck with greater China in the past, he added.

“In the Taiwan case, it’s crying out for some kind of cooperation,” he added.

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