HONG KONG • A murder suspect wanted in Taiwan for killing his pregnant girlfriend in a case that sparked nearly five months of protests in Hong Kong was yesterday freed from prison, where he apologised to her family and said he hopes to surrender to the Taiwanese authorities.
Chan Tong Kai, 20, had served a 29-month sentence for money laundering after he stole and used the credit card of his late girlfriend Poon Hiu Wing. He has admitted to killing her while on holiday in Taiwan in February last year.
"I want to apologise to Hiu Wing's family and say sorry," Chan said yesterday, bowing deeply.
"I understand that I have done some things that are unforgivable and have brought them a lot of pain and hurt. My mind has been troubled, so I am willing... to surrender and am willing to go back to Taiwan to face the law."
Taiwan had earlier rejected his surrender offer, and said it would not allow him to travel there, leading to a row between the self-ruled island and Hong Kong. Taiwan had said Hong Kong should prosecute Chan for murder as the victim was a Hong Kong resident, but the Chinese territory rejected this.
But in an about-turn on Tuesday, Taiwan asked for its officials to be allowed to travel to Hong Kong to pick up Chan and "any relevant evidence", but Hong Kong strongly rejected this yesterday.
"The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government sees it as cross-jurisdiction law enforcement, which is a disrespect to Hong Kong's jurisdictional power, and is totally unacceptable," a statement said, noting that all evidence and witnesses were in Taiwan. It also called on Taiwan to "stop complicating the issue".
But the island hit back yesterday, saying that by allowing Chan to walk free, the Hong Kong authorities were turning the city into a "criminal paradise where murderers can roam around".
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said: "We have exhausted our best efforts to demonstrate our sincerity to cooperate with the Hong Kong side... We must warn the Hong Kong government that it should bear all negative consequences."
During his money laundering trial, Chan said he and Ms Poon had gotten into a tussle after she said she was carrying another man's child. After bashing her head against a wall and strangling her, he put her body into a suitcase and disposed of it.
He then returned to Hong Kong, which does not have an extradition agreement with Taiwan.
Hong Kong held up the case as an example of why broader extradition arrangements are required between various jurisdictions in Greater China, pushing for an extradition Bill. But the law would also allow for the handover of fugitives to mainland China, leading to concerns that this could mean a further erosion of freedoms for Hong Kong. This led to the current protests for democracy in Hong Kong. The government formally withdrew the Bill yesterday.
Hong Kong is governed by a separate mini-Constitution and enjoys freedoms, including a free media and the right to protest. Beijing, however, sees Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification by any means necessary. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is pro-independence, is seeking re-election in January.
East Asia Institute research fellow Qi Dongtao said the Taiwan leader could come under attack from the opposition and her own party if she accepts Chan on Hong Kong's terms. "Showing an acceptance of the Hong Kong administration is, by extension, showing weakness to Beijing," he added.