The mysterious new owner of Causeway Bay Bookstore allegedly took over the struggling business in November in order to collect information on its thousands of clients from the mainland, Hong Kong Chinese-language news site Initium Media has reported.

The small “upstairs bookstore” on Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, which specialises in selling politically sensitive books banned in mainland China, has attracted local and international attention after five of its staff and shareholders have disappeared, one after another, in the months since October.

The Causeway Bay Bookstore. Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

The last one to vanish was Lee Bo, who is the husband of a shareholder at the bookstore’s parent company Mighty Current Media and who helped run the bookstore until he went missing last month. Lee is widely believed to have been kidnapped in Hong Kong and taken to Shenzhen without immigration papers.

Five days after he went missing, a letter handwritten by Lee and addressed to the bookstore’s new owner “Mr. Chan” was published in the media. Lee confirmed in the letter that he was in Shenzhen assisting an unspecified investigation by mainland authorities. He also asked “Mr. Chan” to continue operating the bookstore until he comes back.

The disappearances of the booksellers have triggered protests in Hong Kong. Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

According to Initium, Mr. Chan’s full name is Chan Hin-shing. He is alleged to have connections to triads and shares in a sauna parlour business in Jordan. The report cited unnamed sources as saying Chan took over Causeway Bay Bookstore “on behalf of a mainland businessman” in November, when Lee was running the bookstore alone after his four colleagues disappeared. Chan was supposedly told to acquire information on book buyers, most of whom are from mainland China and some of whom purchased books online, the report said.

Earlier Apple Daily reported the “boss” behind Chan is a retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer.

Chan was taken back to the Causeway Bay Bookstore to assist in police investigation last week.

According to the contract signed by Lee and Chan, Chan was reportedly set to pay the bookstore’s HK$39,000 rent for six months but in return only get a quarter of the bookstore’s revenue during that time, Apple Daily said. The contract will end in May this year.

Chan was able to stay anonymous until he was escorted back to the bookstore by police last week to assist authorities’ investigation into the booksellers’ disappearances. Chan had changed the locks to the bookstore a day before.

According to video clips seen by HKFP, Lee’s friend Hu Zhiwei, who was helping to run the bookstore after Lee’s suspected abduction, said new owner Chan “knows nothing about books or how to run a bookstore.”

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.