Taiwan and Hong Kong trade insults over robbery suspect in extradition row

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan has criticised Hong Kong authorities for rejecting its request for legal help in a robbery case, accusing the city of a similar denial of justice as its handling of a murder that prompted the failed extradition law and months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

But the Hong Kong government hit back in a late-night statement on Sunday, saying it strongly opposed and resented the Taiwanese authorities’ repeated use of irresponsible statements to attack it, knowing there was no law permitting judicial assistance and transfer of criminals between the two jurisdictions.

The war of words follows written requests from Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice and Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) for evidence to facilitate the self-ruled island’s investigation into a robbery by a Taiwanese citizen.

The accused, surnamed Lin, is alleged to have threatened a worker at a watch shop in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district with an air pistol before making off with two watches valued a total of HK$990,000 (US$126,000) in October. He returned to Taiwan later that day where he was arrested.

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The 30-year-old man is suspected of being a serial offender who has been linked to a series of robberies across Southeast Asia and Taiwanese police have asked the local prosecutors’ office to detain him.

Under Taiwanese law, suspects in robberies committed in Hong Kong and Macau can be tried in Taiwan’s courts and, if found guilty, face up to three years in jail. However, there is no extradition law or judicial cooperation agreement between Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan – a loophole that has proved highly contentious.

The Taiwanese ministry called on the Hong Kong government to provide evidence, including video footage and a witness statement, to aid the investigation in Taiwan.

The Hong Kong Security Bureau said there was no law relating to mutual legal assistance or the turning over of fugitives between the two jurisdictions, but that the city was ready to receive the suspect without restrictions if he turned himself in to the Hong Kong authorities.

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On Sunday afternoon, the MAC said no responsible government that took note of the rule of law and safety of the public would allow a suspect involved in a serious crime to turn himself in without a police escort. Hong Kong would become known as a haven for criminals, it said.

In a late-night statement on Sunday, the ministry also accused the Hong Kong government of failing to uphold justice by refusing to provide assistance in the case.

Both statements also referred explicitly to the murder case that led to the Hong Kong government’s failed attempt to introduce an extradition bill in June 2019, triggering the city’s biggest political crisis since its return to China in 1997.

“Since Chan Tong-kai’s case, the Hong Kong government has continuously rejected our requests for judicial cooperation, resulting in the situation that justice cannot be redeemed. For this we express our deep regret,” the ministry said.

Chan, a Hong Kong citizen, was suspected of killing his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing during a holiday in Taiwan in February last year. He returned to Hong Kong soon after the murder, and was subsequently jailed for a related money-laundering offence.

In an attempt to close the loophole that prevented Chan’s extradition to Taiwan, the Hong Kong government introduced a bill that would also have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The bill was subsequently withdrawn after protests in the city which have since broadened to include other demands, including universal suffrage.

Just before Chan’s release in October, the Hong Kong government was told he wished to turn himself in to Taiwanese authorities. The administration then contacted Taipei to arrange Chan’s surrender, but the two sides failed to agree on how that should take place. Hong Kong officials insisted Chan could freely surrender himself, but Taiwan said they should not allow a suspect to walk free because of the risk of destruction or tampering with evidence.

In its statement on Sunday night, the Hong Kong government said authorities had already provided the necessary information in the robbery case under the permissible system of the liaison channel between Hong Kong and Taiwan police.

“Taiwanese authorities should stop using politics or the pretext of Chan Tong-kai and the robbery to meddle with the rule of law and release statements that go against the law in Hong Kong,” the statement said.

In a response to reporters’ questions, the Hong Kong Security Bureau on Monday night said that the city government had always been willing to work with other jurisdictions under the principle of mutual respect.

The bureau said that – even though no extradition agreement or agreement of mutual legal assistance between Hong Kong and Taiwan – Hong Kong had still given Taiwan materials that are allowed under the existing mechanism.

It was “regrettable” that the Taiwan government had made “irresponsible comments” about Hong Kong, a bureau spokesman said, adding that the Hong Kong government cannot accept the Taiwan authorities for “disrespecting” Hong Kong’s law.

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