A member of the University of Hong Kong’s governing council was arrested on Tuesday over the murder of his wife, whose body was found in a suitcase in his office.
Police did not name the academic, but sources identified him as associate professor Cheung Kie-chung from HKU’s department of mechanical engineering.
He was arrested after the decomposing body of his 53-year-old wife was discovered in his office in the Haking Wong Building at HKU’s Pokfulam Road campus on Tuesday afternoon, according to a police source.
In a late evening briefing, Superintendent Law Kwok-hoi of the Hong Kong Island crime squad said the identity of the victim still needed to be confirmed by an autopsy.
The victim was found in her underwear, with an electric wire tied around her neck, suggesting she could have been strangled.
While Law said the time and cause of her death had yet to be determined, sources said an initial examination showed the woman had been dead for days and there were no other obvious wounds on her body.
Cheung had reported his wife missing on August 20. Police were told she had left their home at Wei Lun Hall – one of the residential halls on campus – on Sassoon Road, about a four-minute car ride from his office, after a dispute in the early hours of August 17.
Cheung is the warden of the hall, where he lives with his family, including his son and daughter.
Police grew suspicious after CCTV footage showed him moving a wooden box out of the building, and there was no footage of her leaving the premises.
After days of investigation, officers raided the professor’s office on Tuesday afternoon and found the wooden box, which contained the suitcase with the body. Cheung, who was in the office during the raid, was then arrested.
“There was blood seeping out of the suitcase, and it stank,” Law said.
There is nothing to worry about among the students. I apologise for the anxiety that this has caused
Cheung Kie-chung, in email to HKU hall residents
Investigators suspect Cheung’s wife was killed at their home.
Initial investigations revealed the couple had argued over “mainly trivial matters”.
On August 16, Cheung’s wife argued with their daughter over toilet hygiene, after which the daughter left home. The next day, the wife blamed Cheung for not supporting her during the earlier argument, after which Cheung said she had gone missing.
Law said officers had been in contact with the couple’s two children and confirmed the family disputes. Cheung was being held for questioning on Tuesday night and had not been charged.
His daughter had posted fliers around Pok Fu Lam listing her mother as missing, Law said. The fliers identified her as Tina Chan and described her as being of medium build with mid-length hair.
In an email sent to hall residents on Monday, Cheung said: “You may have noticed the presence of police officers in [the hall] and the surrounding areas in the past few days.
“They are here to investigate a missing person case involving my family. There is nothing to worry about among the students. I apologise for the anxiety that this has caused.”
Cheung is also the vice-chairman of the university’s Academic Staff Association.
Former HKU scholar Roger Wong Hoi-fung, who met Cheung last Friday, said: “He was 100 per cent normal. He was sharp as usual, like he could pinpoint a misspelled word from a document.”
Wong recalled he had briefly met Cheung’s wife some years ago, describing the couple as “completely normal”.
“They were no different from any middle-aged couple,” Wong said, describing his shock at hearing about the arrest. He spoke of Cheung as a “well-respected, principled man who would fight for justice”.
Felix Ng Kwok-yan, a fellow association member, said: “I have never heard about any family dispute. I don’t believe he would do anything like this.”
Ng said the association would arrange for lawyers to try to get in touch with the engineering professor.
Cheung was known as an outspoken advocate of academic freedom. His re-election in 2016 to the university’s governing council was widely welcomed, and he was due to leave the post in December.
When the council rejected promoting former law school dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun to the position of pro-vice-chancellor in September 2015, a move critics linked to Chan’s liberal stance, Cheung was one of the members to criticise the decision.
He was also understood to have defended Billy Fung Jing-en, a former student union president who leaked details of a confidential council meeting in which members decided to reject Chan’s promotion.
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