Sweden probing ambassador over suspect meeting

AP, BEIJING

Sat, Feb 16, 2019 - Page 6

Sweden’s ambassador to China is under internal investigation over a meeting she arranged between the daughter of a detained Swedish publisher and two Chinese businessmen who the daughter has said threatened her father.

Swedish Ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt on Wednesday returned to Stockholm to meet with officials from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish embassy in Beijing said by telephone.

Lindstedt is not under criminal investigation.

The ministry later confirmed that Lindstedt’s departure was related to meetings she arranged between Angela Gui, the daughter of detained Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai (桂民海), and the two businessmen.

“The ambassador has acted incorrectly in the sense that the foreign ministry had no knowledge that the meetings took place,” ministry spokeswoman Catherine Johnsson told reporters.

The internal investigation was aimed at getting “an overall picture of what has happened,” and that “as far as the action of the ambassador is concerned, we must wait for what the inquiry will come up with,” Johnsson said.

Angela Gui on Wednesday published an account in which she described the meetings as “strange.”

She wrote on Medium, an online publishing platform, that the businessmen threatened her after initially offering to help secure her father’s release from prison in China.

Gui Minhai, a naturalized Swedish citizen, co-owned a Hong Kong bookstore that sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders.

The 53-year-old went missing in 2015 from his seaside home in Thailand, turning up months later on Chinese TV saying that he had turned himself in for an alleged 2003 drunken driving accident in which a female college student was killed.

Several of Gui Minhai’s colleagues from his Hong Kong publishing house also went missing in quick succession, sparking suspicions that Chinese security forces were seeking to snuff out independent voices in the semi-autonomous territory.

He was released in October 2017 after completing a two-year sentence, but committed to remaining in Ningbo, China, where he was born, until an investigation was completed into charges of running a business illegally.

In January last year, he was taken off a train by Chinese police while in the presence of two Swedish diplomats with whom he was traveling to Beijing.

Sweden said its officials were taking him to seek medical treatment.

China said that Gui Minhai was being investigated for leaking state secrets.

Gui Minhai later told pro-Beijing media outlets that he never wished to leave China and that Sweden was using his case to “create trouble” for China’s government.

The statement from Gui Minhai, who spoke in a detention facility flanked by police, was immediately denounced by rights activists as coerced.

Angela Gui is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge who has become a self-described “accidental activist” for her father.

She on Wednesday wrote that the role has landed her in a “fair number of bizarre situations,” but few of the same magnitude as her encounter with Lindstedt and the Chinese businessmen.

She said that Lindstedt convinced her to fly to Stockholm on Jan. 24 to explore a “new approach” to her father’s case.

During a two-day meeting with the businessmen and Lindstedt, she said that the businessmen told her they could arrange a Chinese visa and job for her, and that they had connections within the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

She said that they then told her they had already started to negotiate over her father’s case without her prior knowledge.

She cited one businessman as saying that it was possible that Gui Minhai would be released, but only if she promised to stop publicizing her father’s case for a month.

Angela Gui wrote that one of the men told her: “You have to trust me, or you will never see your father again.”

She said that she later learned that no one at the ministry had been informed of the meeting.

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

Sweden last month announced — prior to the incident described by Angela Gui — that Lindstedt was leaving the Beijing post to become ambassador for UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

She was to start in the new position next month.