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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Missing Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo ‘doesn’t do evil things’, friends insist

One associate insists the missing Hong Kong native is an ‘upright man’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 1:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 9:24am

While mystery looms over the disappearance of bookseller Lee Bo, more details are coming to light about the quiet, 65-year-old Hong Kong native who, as his acquaintances remembered, was a “low-profile, intellectual-looking” figure, along with his writer wife.

“The last time I saw Lee Bo, I remember, was when he visited our bookshop over last Chinese New Year and gave us packs of chocolate as gifts,” said Paul Tang, owner of People’s Recreation Community, a book cafe also selling banned books. “He was friendly, and not high-profile.”

Watch: Chief Executive CY Leung ‘very concerned’ about missing booksellers

Compared with more well-established publishers of banned books, such as Mirror Media which traces its roots to the 1980s, Lee’s Mighty Current was new on the scene, said Tang, adding: “And there is little reason for it to be extraordinarily outstanding or insightful among its more than a dozen peers.”

A news stand vendor near the Causeway Bay bookshop that was taken over by Lee’s publishing house around three years ago, who gave his name only as Billy, said he would have occasional chats with the missing owner.

“He was slim, often wearing a pair of glasses,” he said. “He was not talkative, and looked like a typical intellectual.”

“As a friend of Lee, I would say he is an upright man, and doesn’t do evil things,” said Ngan Shun-kau, former chief editor and now senior adviser to Cosmos Books.

Watch: Missing bookseller prompts protests in Hong Kong

In the early 2012, Lee’s wife, Choi Ka-ping, founded Mighty Current, a publisher specialising in books critical of the Chinese Communist Party, together with a German-based man who later transferred all of his shares to Gui Minghai and Lui Por, company records show.

Both Gui and Lui are also missing.

Choi, 61, is a writer who boasts a portfolio of multiple Chinese-language novels, essays and poetry collections.

Writing under the pen name So Fai, the mainland-educated writer has a regular column in the city’s pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper with her latest offering dated January 4.

She was in the city’s publishing industry as early as 1997, her biography shows. Her name was also mentioned as an editor with Joint Publishing Hong Kong, one of the biggest and most respectable publishing houses in the city, in a few of the culture books published in 2007 and 2008.

While the city’s banned-book trade became lucrative after the Bo Xilai scandal broke, Billy, who helps with logistics with Lee’s bookshop at times, said he was told that the business wasn’t faring well over the last two years.

“And that is why he sold some of his holdings of the shop in 2014 to keep it running.”

The 65-year-old was last seen on Wednesday at the Chai Wan warehouse of Mighty Current, the company that owns his store.

Additional reporting by Oliver Chou

TIMELINE OF A MYSTERY

October 15, 2015

Gui Minhai, writer and co-owner of publishing house Mighty Current, which runs the Causeway Bay bookshop, went missing during a holiday in Pattaya, Thailand. He had emailed printers on October 15.

October 20-26

Lui Bo, general manager of Mighty Current, business manager Cheung Ji-ping and bookstore manager Lam Wing-kei, went missing after separately visiting Shenzhen.

Early to mid-November

Accounts of missing colleagues by Gui’s bookstore partner, Lee Bo, reported in local media.

December 30

Lee was last seen in the Chai Wan warehouse of Mighty Current.

January 1

Lee’s wife reported her husband missing to police. She said she had received two phone calls from Lee. She was puzzled as he spoke Putonghua instead of Cantonese and the calls were made from the same number in Shenzhen. She said Lee told her not to make his case widely known. He was assisting in an investigation.

January 4

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he was highly concerned about the cases. In the afternoon,

Lee’s wife withdrew her request for police help after a friend of her husband had contacted him on January 3. By the evening, a handwritten letter, said to have been faxed by Lee Bo to his colleague was published by Central News Agency. Lee said he had returned to mainland and was working with the concerned parties in an investigation which may take a while.

Lai Ying-kit

[email protected]