South Korean double murder suspect’s death in Hong Kong jail ruled suicide

Kim Min-ho (in hood) was arrested over the murders of his wife and six-year-old son in January 2018.
PHOTO: David Wong

The death of a South Korean merchant who was found with a knotted bedsheet around his neck in a Hong Kong prison while awaiting trial for the murders of his wife and son has been ruled a suicide.

An inquest jury comprising three men and two women returned the unanimous verdict at the Coroner's Court on Monday on the death of Kim Min-ho, whose case in 2018 had garnered widespread media attention in both Hong Kong and his native country.

The 43-year-old was CEO of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in South Korea when he allegedly murdered his wife Song Wha-jeong, 42, and six-year-old son Kim Tae-yun on Jan 14, 2018 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

He was charged with two counts of murder two days later and remanded in custody pending his next court date on May 23, 2018, but was found dead inside his cell at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre on April 16. Prosecutors dropped the charges a week later.

The businessman’s wife and a boy were found and a man arrested, in Hong Kong Jan 14, 2018. PHOTO: Reuters

In Kim's single-person cell police found a notebook containing seven letters, addressed to his family members, lawyers and fellow inmates, in which the merchant admitted the killings and expressed suicidal thoughts.

The jurors urged the Correctional Services Department to arrange regular meetings with psychiatrists for detainees who were mentally unstable and to foster prison officers' awareness through training. They also asked police to actively alert the prison service about suspects who displayed suicidal tendencies.

In a letter written in English, Kim thanked his fellow detainee, Malaysian anaesthesiologist Khaw Kim Sun, who had helped him adapt to the prison environment when he himself was awaiting trial for murdering his wife and daughter with a gas-filled yoga ball in 2015.

"I left some gifts for big brother Gum San," Kim wrote, using the Cantonese pronunciation of Khaw's name. "[I] hope [you can] get out [of] here ASAP."

Khaw was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in September 2018. He has appealed against his conviction.

In other letters penned in his mother tongue, Kim said he could not remember anything of "that horrible day" and he was "so much exhausted".

"Committing such a horrible offence, it is hard for me to even say sorry," Kim wrote to his parents, who had declined to appear in the four-day inquest in Hong Kong. "Please forget your foolish son as soon as possible!"

The merchant also asked his mother-in-law and brother-in-law to come to Hong Kong to collect his cremated remains and scatter them around the graves of his late wife and son in South Korea.

A police officer involved in investigating the murders and Kim's death told the Post that Kim's remains had instead been collected by his cousin, whom he had not met for more than a decade, as his parents-in-law told his biological parents to distance themselves from the late businessman.

"The Koreans take their own reputation very seriously. Their society is very different from ours," the officer said, noting that Kim had been depicted as a "monster" and the incarnation of evil by the Korean press.

In his testimony, Khaw said he understood that Kim had encountered "a lot of problems" with the chocolate franchise he brought from the United States to South Korea, in part because he was a "victim" of his home country's relations with China.

Kim's relationship with his father, who was reportedly not very supportive of his business, was said to have deteriorated after the killings. Khaw said Kim had held high hopes about his father visiting him on April 3, 2018 — his 43rd birthday — but he did not show up.

Kim appeared dejected afterwards, Khaw said, adding the merchant gave away chocolates and biscuits to others on April 15, the day before he died.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.