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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

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

Causeway Bay Books staff member Woo Chih-wai reveals that Lee Po’s wife ordered the destruction in a bid to get her husband released from mainland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 11:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 4:47pm

At least 45,000 banned publications critical of the Chinese Communist Party were destroyed in the hope of facilitating the release of bookseller Lee Po, according to the last person to work at Causeway Bay Books.

Woo Chih-wai, who along with his wife volunteered to help run the bookstore and its office after four of its associates disappeared last October, has followed the incident since last November, including Lee’s own disappearance in December, and the order to destroy the books.

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

“I have known Lee since 1993 and decided to help him out in early November when Gui Minhai disappeared in Thailand and then three other staff at the store vanished one after the other,” Woo, 75, told the Post.

A prolific author of biographies of Chinese leaders and a Hong Kong resident since arriving from Shanghai in 1979, Woo was the only person working with Lee at the Causeway Bay shop. His wife helped with bookkeeping at the warehouse in Chai Wan.

Woo recalled the way Lee disappeared in exclusive detail: “It was late afternoon on December 30. My wife received a phone call asking for 15 books. She left the office at 5.40pm with the books. At 5.45pm, Lee Po left the office with the books he was asked to deliver.

“Lee was supposed to join me to discuss some book business with someone who offered to show us ways to make more money. The two of us waited for Lee until 8.25pm, and then called off the dinner as Lee did not show up.

“With hindsight, the whole thing seems to have been well-planned, and the objective was to ensure Lee was alone when he was taken away.”

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

There were two warehouses under Mighty Current, the parent publishing company of Causeway Bay Books. Both units held over 100,000 printed books when Lee disappeared.

“There were 45,000 copies on the 9th floor of the warehouse, which was a rented unit whose lease expired last month. The rest were on the 10th floor office owned by the Lees,” Woo said.

He recalled seeing all the copies being cleared out from the 9th floor unit on January 25 on the orders of Sophie Choi Ka-ping, Lee’s wife.

“They were all packed and ready to go to whoever the buyers were. But then Sophie ordered them to be destroyed instead of selling them,” he said.

“Someone told her getting rid of the books would help facilitate Lee’s release, but it doesn’t look like it.”

He said he did not know what happened to the other books.

Woo has not worked at the shop since it closed in January. His wife was asked not to work at the warehouse on February 4, and she has not been back since.

“My wife called Sophie to get access to the warehouse to pick up personal belongings. She said she no longer had the key and hung up,” he said.

The Post was unable to contact Lee’s wife despite many ­attempts