Suspect in case that set off protests may soon walk free

Protesters at the entrance of the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, where Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was holding a public dialogue on Sept 26, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
In a photo taken on Sept 22, a police officer uses pepper spray on the media during the arrest of a bystander who had berated the police in Nathan Road in Hong Kong. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG • After four months of unprecedented violent demonstrations in Hong Kong and no end in sight, the city's beleaguered leader has one more thing to worry about: the suspect in the murder case that led to the social unrest could soon walk free.

When Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed amending the city's extradition law in February, she cited the case of Chan Tong Kai, wanted in Taiwan in connection with the slaying of his girlfriend, Ms Poon Hui Wing.

Chan was sentenced by a Hong Kong court in April to 29 months' jail for money laundering after he used Ms Poon's bank card for ATM withdrawals, but no legal framework exists for him to be returned to Taiwan to face the murder charges.

While Mrs Lam was forced to eventually say she would withdraw the extradition Bill, it was not enough to appease the protesters who have since broadened their demands to include an independent inquiry into police conduct and a more democratic form of governance.

Meanwhile, Chan could be released as early as next month on good behaviour, Hong Kong's security head John Lee said in April. E-mails sent to Mr Lee and his department went unanswered. Those addressed to Mr Ronnie Leung, who represented Chan in Hong Kong, and the Secretary for Justice's office also went unanswered.

Chan and Ms Poon, both Hong Kong residents, went to Taiwan on vacation in February last year, the South China Morning Post reported. Reports gave their ages at around 19 and 20.

Ms Poon's decomposed body was found by Taiwan police on March 13, the day Chan was arrested. The paper reported Hong Kong police as saying that Chan confessed under caution to killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan after an argument.

Chan said he had strangled Poon and stuffed her body in a suitcase, which he later disposed of in a park, citing evidence at his trial.

He was remanded in custody for 13 months, it said.

Mrs Lam's proposed law sparked protests because it would have permitted the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, opening the possibility that Hong Kong residents could become subject to its laws.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Security Bureau said yesterday that the exact date for Chan's release depended on different factors, including his discipline while incarcerated.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2019, with the headline Suspect in case that set off protests may soon walk free. Subscribe