Catch me if you can: fugitive on run since 2015 escapes from Hong Kong police after being allowed to visit hospital washroom without handcuffs
- Man who fled city after being arrested for carrying fake ID was taken into custody at Hong Kong International Airport
- Manhunt launched for 34-year-old who flew in using Dominican Republic passport and told police to take him to hospital as he had Aids
A fugitive who has been on the run from Hong Kong police since 2015 was not handcuffed when he escaped again on Friday morning through the ceiling of a hospital toilet, according to a patient in the same ward.
Police officers had lowered their guard after the arrested man, 34-year-old Leon Li, made repeated requests to use the toilet, the patient, surnamed Ho, said.
Li was still at large after escaping from Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam at 8.30am – less than 48 hours after being recaptured.
He had repeatedly asked officers to escort him to the toilet from the early hours of Friday as he had an abdominal pain, said Ho, who shared the ward with Li and another patient.
Li was chained and handcuffed when he was taken to the washroom the first few times, Ho said, but was not shackled when he went to the toilet the final time.
“He was put on a chain and the officers walked him like a dog the first few times. They also wedged the toilet door with their feet,” Ho said, adding that the two officers guarding Li changed every few hours.
“He repeatedly complained of having abdominal pains and diarrhoea since Thursday night. The officers loosened [security measures] at that time and let him go [to the toilet] by himself.
“I went back to sleep after breakfast. But I then heard knocking on the door, and yells of ‘Come out, Leon!’ and asking for someone to open the toilet door. But Leon had gone.”
Ho described the fugitive as physically strong, smart and gentle, and that he spoke English and Mandarin. Ho also said Li told him that he was born in China.
Ho said he thought Li had planned the escape in advance as he went to the toilet several times.
Initial investigation showed the suspect climbed into the toilet’s false ceiling in a second-floor ward after removing a cover and then scrambled into another washroom in the ward next door via a narrow space, according to a police source.
Li was taken into custody at Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday when he tried to re-enter the city on a Dominican Republic passport, one of several he reportedly held.
Originally arrested three years ago and charged with possession of a fake ID card, Li, who also had a Chinese passport, was bailed and left Hong Kong. He was being held at Central police station before his latest escape, which happened after he told police he had Aids and needed to go to hospital.
“Somehow Li flew back to Hong Kong with a passport issued by the Dominican Republic,” a senior police insider said.
A police spokesman said the strongly built fugitive, described as 5ft 5in tall and last seen wearing blue and white checked hospital scrubs, and white sport shoes, complained of feeling sick.
He was taken to Queen Mary Hospital on Thursday night.
“The suspect escaped at 8.30am,” the spokesman said. “Police immediately mounted a manhunt nearby. We are searching for the man.”
The Post understands that police were looking into whether the two officers had followed procedures and whether negligence was involved.
Police set up roadblocks and were searching for him in the area surrounding the nearby University of Hong Kong.
According to the force, Li was charged on June 9, 2015 with possessing a forged Hong Kong ID card, a day after being arrested.
He was brought to Eastern Magistrates’ Court two weeks later, and was released on bail on June 23.
“While on bail, the suspect did not report to the court and therefore was listed as a wanted person,” the spokesman said.
Members of the public have been urged to contact investigators on 9855 1789, or 999, if they have any information on the man’s whereabouts.
HKU sent an email to warn students and staff about the escapee, and asked them to report anyone they saw acting suspiciously.
Dr Steven Cannon, executive vice-president of the university, wrote: “Staff and students may be aware that the police are searching for a man who escaped from their custody at Queen Mary Hospital early this morning.
“Members of the university are asked to exercise vigilance and report anyone acting suspiciously to university security or the police.”
It was business as usual in the rest of the hospital, meanwhile, with patients and visitors seemingly unaware of the drama unfolding around them.
It was not the first time police had to recapture prisoners after they escaped from custody in a Hong Kong hospital. In June 2015, an 18-year-old facing trial over drug trafficking, and an alleged acid attack on a family of three, managed to unshackle himself and escape from two police officers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He was recaptured 10 hours later.
That same month, a 14-year-old boy who had been arrested for breaching a curfew order escaped at Tuen Mun Hospital. He was rearrested in hospital that day.
Additional reporting by Fiona Sun and Clifford Lo