- Chan Tong-kai, who says he will surrender to Taiwanese authorities, apologises on his release from Hong Kong prison, but is expected to stay in city on Wednesday
- Chan, 20, is suspected of murdering his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan, in a case that has also set off political row with the self-ruled island
A Hong Kong murder suspect whose case sparked the city's extradition bill crisis made a public apology today as he was released from prison amid an escalating political row with Taiwan.
After spending 18 months in custody on money-laundering charges, Chan Tong-kai, wanted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan, walked out of Pik Uk Correctional Institution in Clear Water Bay on Wednesday morning.
Reverend Canon Peter Koon Ho-ming, a top Anglican priest who had been visiting Chan weekly in jail, told the Post it was unlikely the former inmate would leave Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Speaking outside the maximum-security prison, the 20-year-old student bowed before apologising to the victim's family and to the people of Hong Kong.
"I am willing, for my impulsive act and things I did wrong, to surrender myself to Taiwan to face sentencing," he said, adding he had made the "worst mistake" that could not be reversed.
He added: "I hope this can make her family feel slightly relieved, and (the deceased girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing) can rest in peace."
Thanking his parents, he said: "Even though I've made the worst mistake, they still care for me, support me and won't give up on me."
Chan begged Hongkongers for forgiveness before bowing for the second time and leaving in a white seven-seater vehicle, without taking reporters' questions.
The car Chan was travelling in with Koon was later seen entering King's Park Hill in Yau Ma Tei. Metal barriers were in place to control traffic in and out of the estate.
Koon then left the estate in the same vehicle without the murder suspect. Chan has since been relocated to an unknown location.
A war of words has broken out between Taiwan and Hong Kong over the handling of Chan, a Hongkonger, after his release from prison.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said after Chan's release that the island would not agree to his surrender in exchange for leniency.
Addressing what she said were accusations about her government's handling of the case, she said: "Everything we are doing now is to uphold justice … enhance our national sovereignty."
She added her government would "continue to request that the Hong Kong government provides judicial assistance, especially in the area of evidence gathering."
"We hope the Hong Kong government will not avoid (our request) as many people want to see that the Hong Kong government shoulder responsibility (over the murder case)," Tsai said.
Reverend Canon Peter Koon Ho-ming leaves King's Park Hill without murder suspect Chan Tong-kaiVideo: SCMP/Sum Lok-kei pic.twitter.com/OUJk7RmEU0
" SCMP Hong Kong (@SCMPHongKong) October 23, 2019
Taiwanese authorities on Tuesday announced they had sought help from Hong Kong in bringing Chan back to face charges over the murder of his girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, reversing the island's earlier refusal to accept Chan, despite the murder suspect's apparent willingness to surrender himself.
However, in early hours of Wednesday, the Hong Kong government released a statement rejecting Taiwan's offer to send officials to the city to take back Chan, plunging the suspect's surrender into deeper uncertainty.
A spokesman said the Taiwanese authorities' plan to send law enforcement officers to Hong Kong was "a disrespect for Hong Kong's jurisdictional power and is totally unacceptable".
Shortly before Chan's release, Deputy Minister of the Interior Chen Tsung-yen, of Taiwan, refuted the Hong Kong government's assertion that the strait had placed a travel restriction on Chan entering Taiwan.
Hong Kong, Taiwan clash over surrender of fugitive murder suspect
In a statement, the ministry said it had only barred Chan from registering for a visa to enter Taiwan through the internet because it wanted to verify his identity, adding it would allow Chan to apply in person.
Taiwanese officials had said on Monday they would not take Chan back unless a mutual legal assistance framework with Hong Kong was established. Chan had made his intention to face Taiwanese justice known by writing to the Hong Kong government.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has accused the self-ruled island of "putting politics over the law", and the Taiwanese president hit back by calling Hong Kong irresponsible.
Taiwan reverses decision on fugitive Hong Kong murder suspect
Chan fled to Hong Kong last year after a holiday with Poon, 20, in February last year. Her body was later found.
But Hong Kong does not have the jurisdiction to try Chan for an overseas murder. In the end, local prosecutors charged him only with money-laundering offences for illegally tapping into Poon's finances after his return.
Chan pleaded guilty to the money-laundering charges at the High Court in April and was sentenced to 29 months in jail, but he served less because of good behaviour.
His prison term was reduced by a third for good behaviour, and 13 months of detention before his sentencing was considered as time served.
The case snowballed into a crisis for the Hong Kong government when it tried to push through an unpopular extradition bill, arguing that it was needed to plug the legal loophole exposed by the Chan proceedings.
But the bill, which would have allowed the transfer of suspects to places where Hong Kong lacks an extradition agreement, also covered mainland China. Formulated with little consultation, the proposed legislation prompted millions to take to the streets in defiance, which started in June.
Don't put politics before justice, Hong Kong urges Taiwan over fugitive case
Despite the announcement in September the government would withdraw the bill, protests have intensified and show little sign of abating.
A source close to the matter said while the aim was to eventually get the suspect back to Taipei, Taiwan's wavering stance made it difficult.
The source also said Taiwan's comments on the crime being premeditated was a "threat" to due process.
"There is extreme prejudice (against Chan)," the source said.
The source added church officials would provide mental support to Chan in the meantime.
"He was inside and didn't really know what was happening (with regards to the Taiwan situation)," the source said.
Meanwhile, Chan's release was not expected to attract much attention from protesters, according to one anti-government activist.
"Although he is caught in the political storm, I do not sympathise with him," the protester said.
"So far the extra damage he suffered is guilt."
Taiwan rejects Hong Kong murder suspect's surrender offer
The Post visited the flat of Chan's parents on Wednesday morning in Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon. No one answered the door.
A woman living on the same floor as Chan's parents said she had seen them recently when taking out the rubbish.
"I didn't know Chan Tong-kai would be out today," the neighbour said, declining to be named.
HOW THE POLITICAL CRISIS UNFOLDED
Chan Tong-kai, 19, and his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing, 20, travel to Taipei together, but Poon does not return to Hong Kong and her body is later found.
Chan is arrested for murder by Hong Kong police but only charged with money laundering for dealing with Poon's properties, for which he is later jailed for 29 months.
He could not be sent to Taiwan despite requests from Taipei's authorities, since there is no formal extradition agreement between the two places.
Security Bureau proposes a revision of the extradition regime, which would allow the transfer of fugitive to any place Hong Kong lacks an agreement with, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macau.
Chan's case has been used by the government as the key justification to plug the loophole in the legal system.
After weeks of filibustering in the bills committee, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu announces the bill will be tabled to full council directly on June 12.
First massive rally is held by Civil Human Rights Front, which estimates 1 million people taking to the streets to protest against the bill. But the government indicates the scrutiny will resume on June 12.
Clashes erupt after protesters besiege the Legislative Council, forcing the government to adjourn the bill's scrutiny.
June 15 and 16
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announces the bill will be suspended. But a day later, a second massive rally is held with an estimated 2 million people taking to the streets and demanding complete withdrawal of the bill.
More than 100 protesters storm the Legislative Council building, and make electoral reform for greater democracy another key demand.
Massive protests are held across different districts in the city, some descending into violence.
Lam officially announces the extradition bill withdrawn, but it fails to stop the unrest.
Lam invokes a colonial-era emergency law to ban use of face masks in public rallies, triggering further protests across the city.
Reverend Canon Peter Koon Ho-ming reveals Chan's willingness to surrender to Taiwan after he is released on October 23. Hours later, the city leader receives a letter from Chan expressing the same wish.
Taipei says Chan's surrender is not enough and requests formal talks within a mutual legal assistance framework. But Hong Kong's Security Bureau asks Taipei not to cause unreasonable delay and handle the case with "common sense".
Taipei makes surprise reversal of its earlier decision not to accept Chan from Hong Kong.
Hong Kong government rejects Taiwan's "totally unacceptable" offer to send officials to the city to take back the murder suspect. Chan is released from Pik Uk Correctional Institution. His prison term was reduced by a third for good behaviour, and 13 months of detention before his sentencing was considered as time served.
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