Three of Hong Kong’s missing booksellers have admitted to “operating an illegal business” by distributing unauthorised books on the mainland under the instructions of Gui Minhai, state media claimed.

However, due to their “good attitude”, they could be granted bail pending trial and return to Hong Kong soon.

The missing booksellers – Gui Minhai, Lee Bo, Lui Por, Lam Wing-kee, Cheung Ji-ping – all worked at Mighty Current Publishing and Causeway Bay Bookstore. The store is well-known among mainland tourists as a source for political titles banned in China. Lee has been missing since December, and the others since October.

missing booksellers lee bo
The five booksellers have been missing since last year.

In January, Gui Minhai appeared on state-run TV in China “confessing” to causing the death of a 20-year-old student while drink-driving in Zhejiang province in 2003. The perpetrator was given a two-year suspended jail term in 2004, but Gui fled overseas that November using fake identification documents, state media said. Earlier this month, the Guangdong police confirmed that Lui, Cheung and Lam were under investigation on the mainland.

See More: Explainer: What we know, and what don’t know, about the 5 missing booksellers

‘Operating an illegal business’

According to mainland media, while Gui was in detention authorities found evidence that he had been involved in another crime, “operating an illegal business”.

Mainland authorities said Gui ordered General Manager at Mighty Current Lui Por and other Causeway Bay Bookstore employees, Lam Wing-kee and Cheung Ji-ping, to distribute books that had not been approved by the country’s press and publication authority, altering their covers to escape checks. Since October 2014, 4000 of these books were mailed to 380 buyers in 28 cities.

Gui Minhai
Gui Minhai. Photo: CCTV screenshot.

Lui Por said that he knew the books they sold were not authorised on the mainland, but they did it to improve the company’s sales and boost their income – all under the directions of Gui, said.

It also claimed that Gui helped them open bank accounts on the mainland to receive the payments. Cheung said that he knew the books had not received approval, and that he helped disguise the covers of the books.

Gui said: “Because I was running away from my crimes, I didn’t dare go home to see my parents and fulfil my duties to them. The idea of turning myself in crossed my mind more than once but I never had the courage… I now know that these acts all seriously violated the law of China and I should receive punishment. I am very remorseful.”

Lam, Cheung and Lui were arrested in October in Shenzhen and Dongguan. The report said that they admitted their wrongdoings and blamed Gui. “Everything I did had been under instructions from Gui… [it was because of him] that I embarked on this path to becoming a criminal,” Lui said. said that they were remorseful; Cheung was reported as having shed a tear, while Lam asked to be given another chance.

The report did not give any details on the status of Lee Bo, except to say that Lee had said that he returned to the mainland voluntarily to assist in an investigation, and that he had incriminated Gui.

The Causeway Bay Bookstore
Speaking with The Initium, Yin said he is as worried as the Hong Kongers. Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

Meanwhile, New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said that he will bring up the Lee Bo incident at the annual National People’s Congress meeting next month. However, ten other delegates from Hong Kong interviewed by RTHK said they will not mention the incident, while another six did not give any definite reply.

Lee Bo’s wife Choi Ka-ping’s column in pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao has resumed.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.