Swedish ambassador to China under investigation over 'rogue operation' to free bookseller from prison

The Swedish foreign ministry has launched an investigation into its ambassador to China amid allegations she allegedly conducted rogue negotiations to release a detained Swedish bookseller in exchange for his daughter’s silence.

Anna Lindstedt, the ambassador, has been recalled in the wake of the investigation and a new official has taken her place in Beijing until the end of the investigation.

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The allegations of unauthorized negotiations were first revealed on Wednesday by Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, a bookseller of political gossip titles who vanished in 2015 and later reappeared on Chinese state television “confessing” his crime of 2003 drunk driving incident.

“The ambassador has acted incorrectly in the sense that the foreign ministry had no knowledge that the meetings took place,” spokeswoman Catherine Johnsson said, adding that the probe is about 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.”

The daughter wrote in a blog post that Lindstedt conducted a “bizarre” and “rogue operation” to get her father released in exchange for her silence.

She was contacted by the Swedish official with a “new approach” to her father’s case and invited her to meet two other businessmen.

The allegations of unauthorized negotiations were first revealed on Wednesday by Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, a bookseller of political gossip titles, who vanished in 2015 and later reappeared on Chinese state television “confessing” his crime of 2003 drunk driving incident.

The allegations of unauthorized negotiations were first revealed on Wednesday by Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, a bookseller of political gossip titles, who vanished in 2015 and later reappeared on Chinese state television “confessing” his crime of 2003 drunk driving incident. (CCTV)

She accepted the meeting that turned out to be more about forcing her to agree with the conditions rather than getting her father released. She said in the blog post that her movement was restricted and threatened that she won’t see her father again if doesn’t agree with the proposed terms.

She was allegedly offered a Chinese visa and was told that her father will be released if she remains silent.

“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.”

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The daughter declined to the terms, prompting one of the businessmen to become “manipulative” and asking whether she valued her father freedom and Lindstedt’s career. “You have to trust me, or you will never see your father again," the businessman said.

“You have to trust me, or you will never see your father again."

— A businessman to Angela Gui

Lindstedt allegedly agreed to the plan and said that this way of securing the freedom is better than leaving the negotiations up to the Foreign Ministry.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” the ambassador said, according to the daughter.

Gui managed to flee the meeting after suggesting she had agree with the terms – only to later find out the Swedish government had no idea of the ambassador’s rogue operation.

In this June 18, 2016, file photo, freed Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee stands next to a placard with picture of missing bookseller Gui Minhai, in front of his book store in Hong Kong as the protesters are marching to the Chinese central government's liaison office. Sweden has condemned China's "brutal" detention of a Swedish citizen who sold politically sensitive books and whose seizure while he traveled with diplomats stunned Western governments.

In this June 18, 2016, file photo, freed Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee stands next to a placard with picture of missing bookseller Gui Minhai, in front of his book store in Hong Kong as the protesters are marching to the Chinese central government's liaison office. Sweden has condemned China's "brutal" detention of a Swedish citizen who sold politically sensitive books and whose seizure while he traveled with diplomats stunned Western governments. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

“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,” she said.

The father has already completed his sentence in China, but the Chinese authorities arrested him again in January 2018 just before he could set foot on a Beijing-bound train with two Swedish diplomats to seek a medical examination.

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He later appeared on state TV again, this time asking Sweden not to sensationalize his case. It remains unclear on which charges he’s currently detained.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.