A Hong Kong man wanted in Taiwan for strangling his pregnant girlfriend in a case used by the city to justify controversial changes to its extradition laws was jailed Monday, but not for murder.
Chan Tong-kai, 20, confessed to Hong Kong police that he killed Poon Hiu-wing and dumped her body on the outskirts of Taipei last year.
Poon, who was 20 and was five months pregnant, was strangled during a Valentine’s holiday to the island by Chan who fled back to Hong Kong which has no extradition agreement with Taiwan.
The killing sparked sympathy for Poon’s family and was used by the Hong Kong government to advocate changing the financial hub’s laws to allow extraditions on a case-by-case basis to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
But the decision to include the mainland in those proposals sparked huge protests and a major backlash within the city’s business and legal communities who fear it will hammer Hong Kong’s international appeal and tangle people up in China’s opaque courts.
With Hong Kong prosecutors unable to charge Chan for murder, he was instead charged with money laundering related to his possession of Poon’s phone, camera and money he withdrew from her account.
On Monday a judge sentenced him to 29 months in jail.
Judge Anthea Pang said “great frustration and a serious sense of unfairness” should not overshadow the fact that the case was a money laundering prosecution, not a murder trial.
She said sentencing someone for a crime they are not convicted of would mean “short circuiting” the justice system.
Having been in custody since March last year, Chan has already served 13 months.
The length of the sentence means Chan would likely not be freed until after the extradition law change — now winding its way through the city’s legislature — comes into effect.
The government have pointed to the murder as a reason for why the law must be swiftly changed.
But opponents fear the city’s pro-Beijing establishment is using the killing to push through the deeply unpopular extradition move.
They argue Hong Kong should cooperate with Taiwan directly or consider trying homicide cases involving Hong Kong permanent residents at home.
Historically Hong Kong has baulked at mainland extraditions because of the opacity of China’s criminal justice system and its liberal use of the death penalty.
But the current administration of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam argues it is time to bring some form of extradition parity with the mainland.
The planned changes sparked a huge protest Sunday, the largest Hong Kong has seen since mass pro-democracy protests in 2014.
In response to the backlash Lam’s administration has excluded some economic crimes from the extradition proposals and says political dissidents will not be at risk. But they have vowed to press ahead with the law change.
Critics say they have little faith in the administration’s assurances at a time when the city’s leaders have cracked down on dissent, jailed protest leaders and banned opponents from standing for election.
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