Hong Kong university professor admits killing wife but denies murdering her

A handout photo. Police lead Cheung Kie-chung away after his wife’s body was found in his university office.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A professor at Hong Kong’s leading university has admitted to killing his wife, whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase in his office in 2018, but denied murdering her.

Police also found an IOU note claiming Associate Professor Cheung Kie-chung owed Chan Wai-man HK$6 million (S$1 million) in the couple’s bedroom at the dormitory where he served as warden at the University of Hong Kong.

Cheung initially sought to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter – by reason of provocation or diminished responsibility, suggesting he was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the attack – but the offer was rejected.

Opening the trial on Monday, prosecutors said the 56-year-old associate professor with the faculty of engineering killed Chan, 53, by strangling her with two electrical wires at their residence, Room 1601 of Wei Lun Hall, on or about Aug 17, 2018.

A handout photo. Police arrest Cheung Kie-chung.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The wires, which were tangled up with her hair and bra, were tied in a knot on the left side of her neck, according to Jonathan Man Tak-ho, senior assistant director of public prosecutions. The cause of death was “pressure on the neck”.

The High Court heard the couple had argued the night before her death after their daughter Nancy allegedly accused her mother of neglecting to clean a toilet and left home. Cheung was said to have blamed his wife for driving their daughter away, while Chan reportedly admonished him for failing to intervene in the conflict.

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Chan’s younger sister Wai-yin said she last saw her in bed that night.

“The defendant was next to her on the bed,” Man said. “It seemed that the defendant was pressing against the deceased.”

Wai-yin the next day reportedly asked Cheung about her sister’s whereabouts. He allegedly replied she had left home and led her into the bedroom to look.

The professor reported his wife missing on Aug 20 and allegedly helped police by identifying a woman captured on security cameras leaving the hall on Aug 17 as his wife. Officers searched his office at Haking Wong Building on Aug 28 and found her body in a suitcase stored in a wooden box under a table, Man said.

Investigators also found the IOU dated May 31, 2018, in their bedroom, showing he owed her HK$6 million and he was supposed to make repayment on the day, or pay HK$7 million the following month.

The case is being heard in the High Court. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Cheung bought eight wooden boards for HK$600 (US$77) a day after the killing and transported a wooden box to his office using a hired van on Aug 22.

Man said the defendant told a police officer, who bumped into him just before he entered the van, he was transporting a box of materials for a robotics competition.

The prosecutor also revealed other financial dealings between the spouses. The court heard Wai-yin had accompanied her sister to open an account at DBS Bank on Aug 14 while she was visiting the city with her eight-year-old daughter.

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The elder Chan was allegedly told she could earn a cash rebate if she deposited HK$4 million in seven days, and she could earn more by introducing another customer.

The information allegedly prompted her to call Cheung on Aug 16, urging him to handle the matter as soon as possible.

She was said to have told a bank manager to meet Cheung at Wai Lun Hall, but the professor reportedly said he was too busy to think about the deposit and asked to reschedule the meeting for the following day.

The same afternoon, Man said Chan opened another account with Citic Bank after learning from staff new customers would receive a welcome gift upon depositing HK$1.5 million.

She was then said to have deposited a HK$4 million cheque drawn from Cheung’s account into her newly opened account and indicated she would withdraw HK$2.5 million before returning home.

But the cheque bounced on Aug 21, according to prosecutors.

Cheung’s trial continues before Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.