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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Exclusive: email reveals Lee Po feared Gui Minhai kidnapped by Chinese agents before he himself disappeared

Both Lee and Gui later denied in mainland China that any abduction had taken place – but an email obtained by the South China Morning Post says otherwise

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 8:13pm

In an explosive twist to the case of the five Causeway Bay booksellers who went missing last year, one of the key figures involved said he feared his associate had been abducted by mainland Chinese agents, only for both of them to deny it later, the Post has learned.

The Post has obtained an email by Lee Po dated November 10 to Gui Minhai’s daughter, Angela, in which Lee Po wrote to say that her father, who disappeared while on holiday in October in Pattaya, Thailand, “was taken by special agents from China for political reasons”. That was before Lee himself disappeared at the end of December.

READ MORE: At least 45,000 banned books were destroyed, says last person to work at Causeway Bay Books

“I write to you concerning the whereabouts of Michael. I wonder if you have known that he has been missing for more than 20 days, we fear that he was taken by special agents from China for political reasons,” the email reads, referring to Gui’s English name.

“We last talked to Michael by email on 15 October, and after that day, nobody could contact him. He was then staying in his apartment in Thailand. According to [Gui’s wife]’s words told by the watchman of the building, he left the apartment with several men who claimed to be his friends.

“It’s very little we can do to help Michael because we are not his next of kin. I then think of you, perhaps you can do something, and there are a lot of Michael’s friends [who] are ready to help if you need them. Do tell me what you think and what you want us to do.”

The email contradicts Lee’s story weeks after he disappeared. In a letter he wrote earlier to his wife, Sophie Choi Ka-ping, Lee blamed Gui for his predicament, describing him as a “morally unacceptable person” who had a “complicated personal history”.

In the same month that Gui, who was born on the mainland and later became a naturalised Swedish citizen, went missing, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee disappeared while on the mainland.

READ MORE: Dissident poet turns sleuth to uncover disappearance of bookseller friend Gui Minhai

At the end of December, Lee vanished from Hong Kong, with no record of him crossing the border.

Their disappearances led to fears they had been kidnapped by Chinese agents because the publishing house and bookstore they ran specialised in publications critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

WATCH: How the booksellers story unfolded

Throughout the episode, the Hong Kong government has maintained that there is no evidence of cross-border law enforcement being undertaken over the disappearances. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has also said such acts of law enforcement by mainland authorities in Hong Kong would be unacceptable as it would go against the Basic Law that protects the city’s freedoms.

In January, Gui was paraded on state television, claiming he had surrendered himself to the mainland authorities over a 2004 drink-driving accident in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.

We fear that he was taken by special agents from China for political reasons
Lee Po

He was later accused of ordering his associates to deliver about 4,000 banned books across the border since October 2014.

“I definitely think that he was pressured to say the things that he said. Because I have never heard of these things, these claims at all,” Angela Gui told the Post in a phone interview from the UK.

She said her father’s “confession” on CCTV “definitely seems scripted”.

READ MORE: Bookseller Gui Minhai could face five-year jail term, say legal experts

The 22-year-old said she hoped to see Gui as soon as possible.

“It isn’t a plan as much as it is a hope at the moment because there is so much going on with the case. So I can’t make any concrete plans for the time being. I, of course, hope to be able to see my dad as soon as possible. It would be absolutely fantastic to go and meet him,” she said.

“But because the circumstances are unclear, and because I haven’t even been given a detention notice from the Chinese government that he is in detention, it’s probably very hard to arrange at this moment.”

The Swedish foreign ministry told the Post that its staff from the Beijing embassy had been allowed to visit Gui on February 24. A ministry spokesman would only say Gui was “well”.

Angela Gui said the Swedish authorities had not given her much information about that meeting.

“It was mostly what they told the media, that he looked well. But he was also refusing to talk to them except to say that he didn’t want them to help. It was pretty much the same kind of things he said in the first video,” she said.

FULL TEXT OF THE EMAIL

Subject: Michael is missing

Hi Angela,

I am Paul Lee [Po], Michael’s business partner, who had lunch with you and Michael last year in Hong Kong.

I write to you concerning the whereabouts of Michael. I wonder if you have known that he has been missing for more than 20 days, we fear that he was taken by special agents from China for political reasons.

We last talked to Michael by email on 15 October, and after that day, nobody could contact him. He was then staying in his apartment in Thailand. According to [Gui’s wife]’s words told by the watchman of the building, he left the apartment with several men who claimed to be his friends.

Since we feel [Gui’s wife] is hesitating and is not doing anything at the moment, and it’s very little we can do to help him because we are not his next of kin. I then think of you, perhaps you can do something, and there are a lot of Michael’s friends [who] are ready to help if you need them.

Do tell me what you think and what you want us to do.

Best,

Paul Lee

 

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