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Crime

Young murder suspect’s transfer from Hong Kong to Taiwan may need special legal deal

City has no formal extradition treaty with the island, and experts are uncertain if an unprecedented legal arrangement can be reached to send student, 19, to Taipei after the decomposed body of his girlfriend was found there

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 11:40pm

The arrest of a former college student in Hong Kong over the murder of his girlfriend in Taiwan may prompt an unprecedented legal arrangement to transfer the suspect in the absence of any formal extradition agreement between the two places, the Post has learned.

A source familiar with the matter said a provisional bill would have to be legislated locally, but legal experts expressed scepticism at the possibility. Critics pointed out that if this could be done, other fugitives, including tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung, convicted in a bribery trial in Macau, would not be a free man in Hong Kong.

The uncertainty over the case began on Tuesday when it emerged that a 19-year-old former associate degree student, surnamed Chan, was suspected of killing his girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, 20, while on a Taiwan trip in February. Chan returned to Hong Kong alone.

On Wednesday night, a spokesman from Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said police were actively investigating the case, adding that the bureau would study how to handle the situation under the existing legal framework.

On the same evening, Hong Kong police charged Chan with two counts of theft and one count of handling stolen goods. He will appear in Kwun Tong Court on Thursday. He was arrested in Hong Kong a day earlier on suspicion of using the victim’s bank card to withdraw money from a local cash machine.

A spokesman from the city’s Department of Justice said they would not comment on individual cases.

Hong Kong has signed mutual legal assistance treaties with 29 foreign jurisdictions and surrender of fugitive offenders agreements with 19. But the city has no such agreements with Taiwan.

The Post was told that, in general, other countries which had not signed such agreements could apply for the surrender of fugitives through legal arrangements.

“A letter of request for fugitives could be made through the courts between two places,” a government source said. “A special provisional bill will be sought for approval in the Legislative Council. After the bill is passed, an arrest warrant will be issued and local law enforcement agencies such as police will enforce the law.”

A letter of request for fugitives could be made through the courts between two places
Government source

But he was unable to indicate how long the process would take.

The source believed it would be the first time for Hong Kong to invoke such an arrangement if Taiwanese authorities requested for the transfer of the murder suspect.

Grenville Cross, former Hong Kong director of public prosecutions, said he had never heard of such an “expedient”, and was sceptical about whether the lack of an extradition treaty could be bypassed this way.

“Surrender is only permissible to places with which Hong Kong has arrangements for the surrender of fugitive offenders,” he said, citing a passage in a guidebook for prosecutors published by the Department of Justice.

Referring to Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau, Cross said: “If the suggested expedient was really viable, I imagine it would already have been invoked in such cases.” Lau was sentenced in absentia to five years and three months’ jail for bribery and money laundering by Macau’s Court of First Instance in 2014.

Lawyer Albert Ho Chun-yan, who assisted US fugitive Edward Snowden amid a diplomatic gridlock in the city in 2013, also questioned if authorities could reach such a compromise in the current case. The former Democratic Party lawmaker said it would mean using a legislative process, normally applied to regulating wider policies, to target a specific event.

“I’m not saying it’s not feasible, but no one would do things this way,” he said.

I’m not saying it’s not feasible, but no one would do things this way
Albert Ho Chun-yan, lawyer

According to the source, during the legal arrangements, Chan could be held in custody. The Post understands that police in Hong Kong and Taipei were exchanging intelligence over the case.

The decomposed body of Poon was discovered in bushes in Taipei on Tuesday night, hours after her boyfriend was arrested in Hong Kong for theft. She was a student at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, but quit her higher diploma course without graduating.

The pair went to Taiwan on February 8 and checked in five days later at the Purple Garden Hotel near Zhongshan MRT station in Taipei.

But Chan, a former associate degree student at Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College, returned to Hong Kong alone on February 17, according to a police source.

The Post understands that Poon was strangled during a dispute with her boyfriend in their room. Chan is suspected of stuffing the body into a suitcase before taking it out of the hotel.

Hong Kong police began investigating Poon’s whereabouts after her mother filed a missing person’s report on March 5. Her father also went to Taiwan and sought help from Taipei authorities.

At about 5.30pm on Tuesday, Chan was arrested in Tseung Kwan O after investigations indicated he used Poon’s bank card to withdraw money.

At about 9pm, Taipei police found the body in a field near Zhuwei MRT station in Tamsui district, about 15km (9.3 miles) north of the hotel.

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In surveillance footage from the hotel released by Taiwanese media, Chan was seen leaving the building with what appeared to be a heavy suitcase on February 17.

When asked whether Chan would face a murder charge in Hong Kong, another source said this would be possible if evidence showed he made preparations for the act in the city. “Initial information indicates this is not the case,” he said. But he added that police would seek legal advice from the Department of Justice.

In the early hours of Wednesday, Chan was escorted by police to his home in Kowloon East, where officers collected evidence. He was driven to the headquarters of Kowloon East regional crime unit in Tsz Wan Shan before being taken to Tseung Kwan O police station before daybreak.

At 2pm, he was still being held for questioning and had not been charged.

The Post understands that fugitives wanted by Hong Kong police and who were hiding in Taiwan were sent back to the city in “pragmatic cooperation” between authorities in the past, but there had been no previous incident in which a Hongkonger had allegedly committed a serious criminal offence in Taiwan and returned to the city.

In April 2016, Taiwanese authorities expelled four Hongkongers – three men and a woman – who were wanted by Hong Kong police over the grisly “body-in-cement” murder case in Tsuen Wan. The four were arrested upon their return to the city.