Hong Kong-Taiwan loophole means teen accused of killing girlfriend in Taipei may never face charges
Chan Tong-kai is accused of strangling Poon Hiu-wing, whose decomposed body was found near an MRT station. So far, back in Hong Kong, he has only been charged with theft
A Hong Kong teenager suspected of murdering his girlfriend while they were on holiday in Taipei may never face charges over the killing because the city has no extradition deal with Taiwan and does not recognise its jurisdiction, a legal expert said on Friday.
Despite previous collaboration between officials in both places – in intelligence-sharing and arresting suspects – problems arise once a case arrives at a Hong Kong court, he said.
Chan Tong-kai, 19, a former associate degree student at Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College, is suspected of killing 20-year-old Poon Hiu-wing, also from Hong Kong, the island’s police said.
The couple went to Taiwan on February 8, but Chan returned to Hong Kong without her on February 17. Officers said the suspect was seen carrying a huge pink suitcase after checking out of a Taipei hotel earlier that day, and that they suspected Poon’s body was inside it.
Prosecutors in Taiwan said the initial autopsy showed the woman, a former student at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, was strangled. But the lack of an extradition agreement between the two places means they may never bring charges against Chan, one judge said.
“Without any special arrangements, I can foresee that the suspect could be able to get away from the harsh penalty because of the loophole created by the different judicial systems as well as Hong Kong’s refusal to recognise Taiwan’s jurisdiction,” a serving local judge, who declined to be identified, said.
The judge cited the case of three Colombian nationals who allegedly stole NT$5 million (HK$1.3 million) worth of jewels in Taiwan several years ago, before fleeing to Hong Kong.
Back then, police in the city cooperated with their Taiwanese counterparts to nab the suspects. But a Hong Kong court refused to recognise evidence from authorities in Taiwan – with which the city has no formal relations – and the suspects were released.
The judge said the present case was “even more complicated”.
“Before Taiwan is able to place charges against him it needs to question the suspect,” he said, adding that he doubted Hong Kong would send the suspect over for questioning for lack of an extradition deal, as well as its claim of jurisdiction over its citizens.
He said if Hong Kong was determined to seek justice for the victim, it could learn from a “video hearing” between Taiwan and Canada last year, during which Taiwan prosecutors questioned a Canadian witness over a fraud case involving Taiwanese and Canadian nationals.
“This way, prosecutors in Taiwan may be able to gather evidence through questioning the suspect, and hand over the final evidence to Hong Kong should they choose not to send him to Taiwan for punishment,” he said.
Police discovered the badly decomposed body of Poon on Tuesday, in bushes near Zhuwei MRT station, on Taipei’s outskirts.
The same day, Chan was arrested in Hong Kong, where he only faces charges of theft and handling stolen goods. He is accused of stealing Poon’s bank card, a camera, her phone and NT$20,000, and taking money from her bank account twice in late February, from a Hong Kong cash machine.
On Friday, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu gave no indication that the suspect would be transferred to Taiwan.
He said: “The incident involves two jurisdictions. We are working hard to study how to process the case under the existing legal framework.
“At this stage, I think it is most important to investigate and gather evidence, and know clearly what has happened, and what crimes are involved in which jurisdiction.”
After evidence has been gathered, Lee said, authorities will decide which court it should go to.
Taiwan’s Justice Department said on Thursday it would try to get an agreement from the Hong Kong side to ease the investigation and any eventual punishment.