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Body-in-cement murder case

Taiwan hopes for more formal crime-fighting measures with Hong Kong but city’s legal scholars see hurdles

Use of death penalty on island cited as just one obstacle despite recent bilateral cooperation over cement murder suspects

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 12:59pm

Taiwan authorities expressed hope over establishing a formal crime-fighting mechanism with Hong Kong following the recent transfer of three suspects in the body-in-cement murder case from the island to the city.

Legal scholars in Hong Kong, however, had differing views on how likely such a system could be implemented, while a well-placed Taiwan official told the Post that Hong Kong’s lukewarm response to the idea thus far was a far cry from the close relations the respective law enforcement agencies had prior to the city’s 1997 handover.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said the island wanted to establish closer joint crime-fighting efforts with Hong Kong, including signing a mutual legal assistance agreement.

Transfer of body-in-cement murder suspects could pave way for Hong Kong-Taiwan legal assistance pact

“We share the same views with Hong Kong and Macau when it comes to joint crime-fighting efforts,” said the council’s secretary general Jeff Yang on Thursday in response to a Post inquiry.

“Through cooperation on individual cases, we are very positive about eventually establishing a mechanism of mutual legal assistance or joint crime-fighting efforts,” he said. “We have never ruled that out, and hope the authorities in Hong Kong and Macau can understand this.”

The call came this week after the island sent back three suspects in the body-in-cement murder case.

In the absence of a formal agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan, Taiwan authorities could not have stopped the three suspects leaving Taiwan for elsewhere had they chosen to depart the island before their visa-authorised stays expired, a Taiwan official with knowledge of the matter told the Post.

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Yang said if the suspects had left within their authorised stay, it would have been “very, very troublesome for us and that’s why we had to keep them on surveillance throughout the month”. A mutual legal assistance agreement would have enabled Taiwan authorities to arrest the trio right away and send them back, he said.

Taiwan in the past repeatedly expressed its wish to start talks on signing a legal agreement but the matter never reached the point of formal negotiations, he added, describing relations between Taiwan and Macau as closer by comparison with more frequent transfers of suspects.

“Hong Kong has been careful about its interaction with Taiwan,” said Yang. “Before the 1997 handover, the two sides were very close. But after 1997, cooperation died down and now everyone is figuring out how it should work.”

With cooperation on cases such as the unofficial transfer of the fugitives this week and intelligence exchange that led to the successful rescue of a kidnapped Hong Kong-listed company chairman in Taiwan last year, the official said both sides were moving in the right direction.

The establishment of mutual legal assistance between Hong Kong and Taiwan would require Beijing’s authorisation, according to Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

Young said he believed there were many reasons the central government would support such a formal arrangement, citing a criminal cooperation agreement between the mainland and Taiwan that was implemented in 2009 and had been successful.

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“I think it is in everyone’s interest to try to negotiate a workable cooperation framework between the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan,” he said.

But the legal scholar noted there could be some difficulties in working out a cooperation framework as Taiwan employs the death penalty while Hong Kong does not.

Albert Chen Hung-yee, another legal professor at HKU, was less optimistic.

Chen said while it would be best for the city to establish an extradition arrangement with Taiwan, such a move would be unlikely.

“Even between Hong Kong and the mainland, there is no formal extradition arrangement, so establishing one with Taiwan would be quite difficult,” he said.

Additional reporting by Owen Fung and Ng Kang-chung