Murder shines spotlight on HK extradition loopholes

Hong Kong legislators were set Friday to debate a proposal from the Security Bureau that would allow extraditions to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China for serious crimes.

The proposal put forth on Feb. 12 stems from a murder in Taiwan last year of a pregnant 20-year-old woman. Ms Poon Hui-wing was strangled by her boyfriend Mr Chan Tong-kai and dumped inside a suitcase outside Taipei. Mr Chan returned to Hong Kong and was eventually arrested. He faces charges of theft and money laundering after being found with Poon’s bank card, which he sued to withdraw around HK$13,000.

However, there is no mechanism for him to be extradited to Taiwan where he is wanted for the murder.

The proposal created an uproar among pro-democracy legislators who fear it could be used for political purposes.

Hong Kong has no extradition deals with Beijing, Taipei or Macau. The existing law rules out extraditions to other parts of the People’s Republic of China – a category that includes Taiwan under Hong Kong law.

Today, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) will consider a proposal from the Security Bureau to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance to allow for such extraditions. The proposal aims to change existing extradition laws to “promptly to plug their loopholes and to protect public safety”.

The proposal would allow extradition on a case-by-case basis but not extraditions based on “race, religion, nationality or political opinions”. It would also allow authorities in Hong Kong to turn fugitives over to jurisdictions with which the city has no bilateral extradition deals.

Authorities hope the proposal could be adopted before July, when LegCo takes its summer break.

In many ways, the issue is more practical than political – despite the many political and ideological overtones that guide official links between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Just as there is no official mechanism to extradite people to Taiwan, there is also no obvious way to handle official communications.

The Security Bureau worries that “permitting a major criminal to stay in Hong Kong marks not only a violation of justice but also poses a risk to public safety.”

Mr Chiu Chih-hung, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Taipei’s Shilin district, said multiple requests made to the Hong Kong police over the last year have gone unanswered.

“We would welcome if the Hong Kong government could revise the relevant law to transfer the suspect to Taiwan to stand trial,” Chiu told the media.

Hong Kong has long been concerned about extraditions to mainland China because of the vastly different legal systems and the potential for the death penalty in the mainland.

While the proposal from the Security Bureau is focused on criminal activity – as opposed to ideological or political activity – some Hong Kong lawmakers worry that opening this particular door could lead to problems.

One Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker, Ms Claudia Mo, fears the proposed changes could prove to be a Trojan horse and that Beijing could frame ideological crimes as economic offences.

“I know the Hong Kong government has implied that political cases will not be entertained, but we all know Beijing could always package ideological crimes in the form of economic offences,” Ms Mo said.

Another pro-democracy lawmaker, Mr Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, worried that the proposal could open a Pandora’s box, fraught with peril. In comments on Facebook, Chu said that the “proposal has far-reaching consequences and must not be casually accepted.”

The pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong expressed support for the proposal while the Democratic Party voiced its opposition and concerns that the changes would open the door for abuse.

Civic Party lawmaker Mr Dennis Kwok called for an extradition agreement with Taiwan.

Despite the various concerns, Mr Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said that as long as fugitives get legal protection before being handed over, the revised law could strengthen Hong Kong’s cooperation with Taiwan in fighting commercial and financial crime.

Ms Regina Ip, leader of the New People’s Party, shared Mr Young’s view. She said individuals affected by extradition requests could still make their case in Hong Kong courts before being handed over, so their rights would not be infringed.