Causeway Books co-owner Lee Bo said he was willing to accept the consequences for smuggling himself to the mainland “using his own means”, but said that he was not there for prostitutes and had never blackmailed anyone. He also confirmed again that he would be giving up his British citizenship, saying that he identified as a Hongkonger and Chinese.

Five booksellers who worked at Mighty Current Publishing and Causeway Bay Bookstore were reported to be missing last year. The store was well-known among mainland tourists as a source of political titles banned in China.

On Monday, it was reported that three of them have admitted to “operating an illegal business” by distributing unauthorised books on the mainland under the instructions of Gui Minhai, one of the other publishers, who disappeared from Thailand and reappeared making a televised confession in January. However, due to their “good attitude”, it was said that they could return to Hong Kong soon. Lee is understood to be assisting with the same investigation.

The five booksellers have been missing since last year.

In an interview with mainland media outlet The Paper, Lee stressed again that he was never kidnapped or missing. He also criticised individuals and organisations who protested and petitioned on his behalf for disrupting the peace of his family. “It did no good to me.”

‘Not threatened or lured’

“I’ve told everyone this many times, through the Hong Kong police and my wife. I returned to the mainland to voluntarily to assist with an investigation… I was not threatened or lured there. All this talk about being kidnapped or me being missing – I believe it’s a complete fabrication and that there’s an ulterior motive involved.”

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“I believe this has nothing to do with one country two systems or the personal safety of Hongkongers… I believe Hong Kong still has freedom of speech and publication. However, this of course does not mean that with these freedoms you can fabricate rumours or make up whatever stories you want,” Lee said.

Lee said he was currently a witness in an investigation that involves his company’s employees and internal operations, as well as crimes Gui Minhai allegedly committed. Lee said it took a long period of time because it was a complicated case. Lee also expressed remorse and said Gui was a person of “objectionable moral character.”

Gui Minhai. Photo: CCTV screencap.

“I want to apologise to the many people I hurt… it’s why I decided to go to the mainland to assist with the investigation.”

Lee said that at the moment, the investigation was still ongoing and he would not be able to return to Hong Kong until it was completed, but after that he would be free to do so. Lee added that the attention surrounding the incident has put a lot of pressure on him.

Legal action over prostitute comments

He also said that his friends had helped him smuggle himself onto the mainland and he did not use his travel documents, but did not reveal any further details. He also said that he was willing to accept the consequences of doing so.

However, Lee said that he was not on the mainland for prostitutes and had never blackmailed anyone. “These are statements are damaging to my character, and I reserve the right to pursue legal action.”

Lee Bo. Photo: Phoenix TV screenshot.

Lee also dismissed rumours that he was carried onto a truck when leaving an industrial building in Chai Wan. “I can tell you officially that there is no such thing at all.”

‘Always a Hongkonger and Chinese’

Lee confirmed again that he was to give up his British citizenship, and said he has already informed the UK of the decision.

“I’ve never sought any kind of help from the UK. I first applied for right of abode there in the 1990s, but in these 20 years I’ve never lived there and never enjoyed any rights or benefits as a British citizen. My daughter studies there but she pays an overseas student’s fees.”

“I always see myself as a Hongkonger, and Chinese.”

HKFP has approached the UK authorities for comment.

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.