A China-born Hong Kong Instagram “goddess” was arrested in connection with the murder of fellow influencer Abby Choi. Who is Irene Pun?
Irene Pun, another arrestee in the murder of Abby Choi. Photo: punhuayin/Instagram
There are more plot twists than a homicide thriller, many following the Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤) murder/mutilation have said. Even if Miss Moorthy Investigates, she’d be stumped. In the latest development of the brutal slaying of Ms Choi, Hong Kong police have arrested an “influencer”, Irene Pun Hau-yin (潘巧贤 or Pan Qiaoxian ), in connection with the gruesome case. Ms Choi’s torso and hands are reportedly still not found, but more suspects have been apprehended. Earlier in the week, a yacht rental agent, Henry Lam (林舜 or Lin Shun) was arraigned and charged with aiding Ms Choi’s ex-husband Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智) to abscond. Ms Pun (pronounced poon), identified as Mr Kwong’s “friend”, had later tried to flee Hong Kong, but was napped in her tracks across the border in Shenzhen (深圳) on 7 March and handed over to Hong Kong police at the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint. The 29-year-old was charged yesterday and released after HK$50,000 (or about S$8,620) bail was posted. When she was in court to hear her indictment, she was, it was enthusiastically reported, shod in Chanel.
That another influencer was in the news has brought the Hong Kong KOL community to a tizzy. Even the entertainment world was abuzz when Ms Pun—her followers consider her to be an “IG天后 (goddess)”—was linked to some of the SAR’s noted stars, including Louis Koo Tin-lok (古天乐, Gu Tianle), Owen Cheung Chun-long (张振朗, Zhang Zhenlang) and singer Kelvin Kwan Chor-yiu (关楚耀, Guan Chuyao), when she posted wefies of the stars and herself on Instagram. Mr Kwan, appearing on her IG page with considerable regularity, is believed to be an old friend. Raised in Canada, he is the son of record producer William Kwan Wai-leun (关维麟, Guan Weilin), who is a close friend of Alan Tam Wing-lun (谭咏麟, Tan Yonglin), also the younger Kwan’s godfather. In 2009, he was arrested in Tokyo for the possession of marijuana together with his then girlfriend, the Korean/Filipino singer Jill Vidal (衛詩, Weisi). Ironically, both had appeared in Hong Kong’s Say No to Drugs campaign of that year. His career did not recover. Last year, the disgraced singer was reported to be reduced to performing in a food court in the resort island of Hainan. After Ms Pun’s arrest, her younger sister Zoe, also considered an influencer, posted a cryptic handwritten message in Chinese that seemed to suggest that her sibling is innocent or that it might be the company she kept that has led to her downfall. None of her famous friends have stood up for her.
Although it is not known how they met, Irene Pun and Henry Lam do not appear to be mere acquaintances. On her IG page, she shared photos of both of them attending various social events, one of them was her birthday party. It is speculated that she knows Mr Lam well and trusted the forty-one-year-old, at least sufficiently to ask him to arrange for her friend, the murder suspect, to flee to Macau. According to Hong Kong’s Mingbao News (明报新闻), on 24 February, after Ms Pun came to know that Mr Kwang had murdered his former wife, she introduced him to Mr Lam, who, as Mingpao stated, is an employee of Air Yacht (优游海洋), a company in Shueng Wan (上环) that charters luxury yachts. Curiously, in a post on Air Yacht’s IG page, which showed a TVB interview from 2020, Mr Lam was introduced as a “共享游艇船主 (literally, ‘shared yacht owner’)”. Ms Pun had posted images on IG of herself aboard boats, enjoying the sea or sunbathing (one, “boating w my gals” in Posatino, Italy) although it is not known if her marine escapades had anything to do with Air Yacht or if she had even met Mr Lam through the company.
Irene Pun outside BV in Ginza, Tokyo last October. Photo: punhuayin/Instagram
After the meeting between Alex Kwong and Henry Lam, a sum of HK$300,000 (according to The Straits Times, HK$100,000) was paid to the latter. It is not known if this was Mr Kwong’s own money. Mr Lam had, by then, worked out the get-away to Macau. The plan was for the escapee to be brought to open seas by speedboat (some reports say yacht) and then transfer him to another vessel before sailing the fellow to the gambling hub of southern China. Ms Pun herself would then find her way across to the mainland, whether to join Mr Kwong, it is not yet known. As Macau is in the picture, there is now speculation that the involvement of Mr Lam is somehow linked to convicted Macau “小赌王, little gambling king” Alvin Chau (周焯华, Zhou Zhuohua), protégé of the famed gangster (尹国驹, Yin Guoju), who Time magazine called “the last godfather of Macau”. In January, Mr Chau was sentenced to 18 years in jail for over 100 charges, according to the BBC (Chinese media reported more than 280). The founder of Suncity Group (太阳集团), he ran what was described as Macau’s largest operator of junkets—trips for mainland Chinese high rollers to the MSAR’s casinos. Online rumours are rife that although Mr Chau is in jail, his organisation behind many criminal activities has not entirely ceased operations. And, somehow, through it, Mr Kwong’s escape would be possible.
Alvin Chau has links to Hong Kong too, especially in entertainment. In the Fragrant Harbour, he had set up Sun Entertainment Culture (太阳娱乐文化), a record label, film company, and management agency, which was once run by Paco Wong Pak-ko (黃柏高 or Huang Bogau), one of the most renowned artiste managers of Hong Kong, a name behind such major Cantopop successes as the late Danny Chan Pak-keung (陈百强) and Sammi Cheng Sau-man (郑秀文). Henry Lam had reportedly called Mr Wong his “入行恩师 (ruhang enshi or mentor)”. He was, therefore, in the entertainment business and had, apparently, been assistant to the singer Ronald Cheng Chung-kei (郑中基), also managed—unsurprisingly—by Paco Wong. According to the news site Singtao (星岛网), he too was once Kelvin Kwan’s assistant at Universal Music (环球唱片). These connections in the Hong Kong entertainment circle led to the speculation that Mr Lam possibly became acquainted with Alvin Chau through Paco Wong, and that he had kept in contact with the gambling king, and was why he wanted to arrange for Alex Kwong to seek refuge in Macau.
As with Henry Lam, how Irene Pun came to know Alex Kwong is not known. There is suggestion that both of them were dating before the murder, but that is yet to be verified. Some reports refer to her as Mr Kwong’s “女朋友 (nupengyou or girlfriend)”. Hong Kong police offered no insight to the nature of their relationship. She has posted on IG images of her and Mr Lam in Macau, often in the gambling hub’s expensive playgrounds. These photographs suggest that both of them are not unfamiliar with Macau. Her fondness for the MSAR (even hashtagging the city when her IG photos are not obvious) may explain her involvement in sending Mr Kwong there. According to the Hong Kong media, she had “claimed [that] she is unemployed”, but Netizens consider keeping oneself visible through social media “a job” and that Mr Kwong was not likely to date a woman of unimpressive means. This would be the second allegedly wealthy IG star that is linked to Mr Kwong. Like Abby Choi, Ms Pun showed herself to be living it up, attending events with celebrities, wearing expensive luxury labels, often shot in different parts of the world. Curiously, both women’s IG posts do not offer images of either of them with Mr Kwong.
Henry Lam and Irene Pun celebrating the latter’s birthday in 2019. Photo: punhauyin/Instagram
Irene Pun was born on 19 September 1993, supposedly in China—exactly where, it is not known. Virtually no information is available about her family or her childhood. Some Hong Kong media reports describe her as a “new immigrant”. But according to her Facebook page, she went to St Margaret’s Co-educational English Secondary Primary School in Kowloon, one of the few institutions that uses English as medium of instruction. After that, she went to Maryknoll Convent, a girl’s school, also in Kowloon, with both primary and secondary education. It is possible that Ms Pun completed her primary school at St Margaret and secondary at Maryknoll, which would suggest that she had arrived in Hong Kong before she was six. Unlike Abby Choi, Ms Pun furthered her studies. First, at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, a public university in California, but it is not know what she read or if she graduated. Then, she was in the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the same school that winner of the inaugural Singapore Stories competition, Carol Chen (陈慧敏) went to. It is not ascertained if she received her degree. There is no reference on social media of her graduation show or such, except for a post on April 2015, when she shared a photo of a mood board and three pieces of (presumably) her fashion illustrations, with the comment “做project做死 (doing project till death)”. Whether she took a job in fashion after finishing school is not known either.
Apart from her love of dressing up, Ms Pun enjoys cooking and dining in fancy restaurants. She has a separate IG page to (mostly) show off her culinary skill and the places she dined in. Despite being an active social media user, with two accounts on IG alone, she shared almost nothing about her family: less than a handful of her mother (her sister is a tad better: one indistinct photo of her day, a pair of her parents, and some of her mother), with one, posted in 2013, that was an old snapshot of her mom, an undeniably attractive younger self. (As with Abby Choi, she offered no shots with her father.) But online Hong Kong sleuths linked a key figure of the city’s triad and his wife to the influencer, suggesting that the city’s notorious gangster of the ’90s Pan Luanbin (潘銮彬), twice jailed, and spouse Fang Lixia (方丽雯) are Ms Pun’s parents. This has not been verified by the authorities, but the premise of this connection is based on her surname and, the year of her birth, which reportedly coincided with the year that Ms Fang gave birth to her first child (a daughter, no less): 1993. Moreover, she is one of two daughters. Pan Luanbin has two girls, too. Could this be mere happenstance? If this is true, then Ms Pun was born in Hong Kong. But, more pertinent to this girl’s backstory is the source of her income. As with Abby Choi’s real worth, no one can say for sure.
A week before Abby Choi’s murder, Irene Pun was in Seoul with her younger sister Zoe, having a good time, as reflected in the IG posts of both women. It is not reported when she returned to Hong Kong or when she was in touch with Alex Kwong following that. After she was handed to the Hong Kong police on 8 March, Ms Pun was brought back to the apartment she shares with her sister in West Kowloon for the gathering of evidence. Like Abby Choi, she lived in a swanky residential development: The Cullinan (天玺). Hong Kong media describes it as a “luxury private estate”. Only those with deep pockets would be able to afford the sea-view flats that rise above Kowloon Station, a stop on the Airport Express. Real estate websites showed that units here have been selling between HK$20.6 million and HK$57 million. Early reports claimed that Ms Pun’s father runs a bar. That alone, many expressed, would not be able to sustain his daughter’s lavish expenditure, unless, as it has been pointed out, “the father is money-laundering”. As with Abby Choi, those who know Ms Pun has claimed that the latter “只是太善良 (is just too kind)”. But kindness alone cannot explain her criminal actions, however impulsive, or how a woman, not yet 30, could amass the wealth that had fueled her life of extravagance. Even as more suspects were hauled to court, it seems that the can of worms is only being pried open and just the surface is given a peek.
Update (16 March 2023, 10:30): According to Hong Kong media, there is now an eighth suspect. After the police interviewed residents of the flat in Lung Mei Tsuen, where the mutilation or Abby Choi took place, another man is believed to have been on the look out while the hacking of the model’s body took place. Police have not identified the suspect, but Netizens are speculating that it could be Abby Choi’s step brother (born to Ms Choi’s mother the “Fifth Sister” and her second husband). The plot thickens, again.