Sweden’s foreign ministry has launched an investigation into its ambassador to China after she allegedly led unauthorised negotiations in an effort to get a detained Swedish bookseller released in exchange for his daughter’s silence.

Sweden’s ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt left China on Wednesday. A new acting head of the mission has been assigned to the Swedish embassy in Beijing, pending the conclusion of the investigation.

Angela Gui has been campaigning for the release of her father Gui Minhai, who was among five Hong Kong-based booksellers affiliated with Causeway Bay Books, which sold political gossip titles. He disappeared in late 2015, only to reappear in mainland China “confessing” on state TV.

Anna Lindstedt
Anna Lindstedt. Photo: Embassy of Sweden in China.

In a lengthy blog post published on Wednesday, Angela Gui described a “bizarre,” “rogue operation” where Lindstedt had sought her father’s possible release in exchange for her silence. Gui claimed that Lindstedt contacted her in mid-January offering “a new approach” to her father’s case. She invited her to a Stockholm hotel to meet two businessmen.

Gui said the meeting went on for nearly two days, during which her movements were restricted and she was told she would never see her father again if she did not agree to the terms offered.

One of the businessmen allegedly offered Gui a Chinese visa, and also promised to secure her father’s release if she remained quiet for some time.

Angela Gui
Angela Gui. Photo: Sindre Deschington/Handout.

“The man who offered me the visa told me that they had ‘connections within the Chinese Communist Party’. He said the Chinese ambassador was ‘on the phone to Beijing’, and that it was possible my father might be released,” Gui wrote.

“There would, however, need to be a trial first – in which my father might be sentenced to ‘a few years’ before he’d be allowed to come back home. In order for this to happen, I was told I needed to be quiet.”

Gui said she declined, which led to the businessman raising his voice and becoming “manipulative” – asking her if she valued her father’s freedom and Lindstedt’s career.

She added that Lindstedt had agreed to the plan, and tried to sway her by saying the plan was better than negotiations conducted by the Foreign Ministry.

Gui quoted Lindstedt as saying at the time: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

gui minhai cctv
Gui Minhai. Photo: CGTN screenshot, via YouTube.

Gui said she managed to leave by pretending to agree, and later found out that the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no knowledge of Lindstedt’s actions.

Her post ended on a defiant note: “I’m not going to be quiet in exchange for a visa and an arbitrary promise that my father ‘might’ be released. Threats, verbal abuse, bribes, or flattery won’t change that.”

“Thanks for the offer, though.”

Investigation initiated 

In response, the Swedish foreign ministry in Stockholm said it was not aware of the events until the end of January, after the meetings had taken place.

“Due to information concerning possible incorrect action in connection with events at the end of January, an internal investigation has been initiated and a new acting head of mission has been assigned to the relevant embassy – pending conclusion of the investigation,” the Swedish foreign ministry told HKFP.

When asked about the incident, the Swedish Embassy in Beijing told HKFP: “Ambassador Lindstedt has left China on 13 February upon completion of her mission here. Any questions regarding this issue are made by the Press Service of the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] in Stockholm, Sweden.”

On January 17 – before the incident – it was announced that Lindstedt would take up a new role in March as the ambassador for the implementation of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. But it was uncertain whether the investigation will prevent her from taking on the role.

YouTube video

Chinese-born Swedish Gui Minhai went missing while on vacation in Pattaya in 2015, only to appear on Chinese state television a few months later “confessing” to a 2003 drunk driving incident in Ningbo. He claimed that he had turned himself into mainland authorities.

Gui has already completed his sentence. But when aboard a Beijing-bound train with two Swedish diplomats to seek a medical examination in January 2018, Gui was arrested again by Chinese authorities. He then appeared again in front of Chinese state media and hand-picked Hong Kong outlets urging Stockholm not to sensationalise his case.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.