March 24, 2016 / 12:09 PM / a year ago

Hong Kong bookseller returns from China after three-month absence

A demonstrator wears a mask depicting Causeway Bay Books shareholder Lee Bo during a protest over the disappearance of booksellers, in Hong Kong, China January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A missing Hong Kong bookseller who published books critical of China’s leaders returned to the financial hub on Thursday after a three-month absence and said again he hadn’t been kidnapped, the government said in a statement.

Lee Bo, a British passport holder and bookseller specializing in gossipy books on the private lives and power struggles of China’s leaders, crossed the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint into Hong Kong escorted by an immigration official, the Hong Kong government said in a statement.

Lee and four associates went missing over the past half year, sparking fears Chinese authorities were overriding the “one country, two systems” formula protecting Hong Kong’s freedoms since its return to China from British rule in 1997.

Many people in free-wheeling Hong Kong and some foreign diplomats fear mainland agents illegally captured both Lee and Gui Minhai, a Swedish national.

Lee, who traveled to China without his regular China travel document, was questioned by Hong Kong immigration authorities on his return.

“Because Lee Bo had not provided comprehensive information on how he crossed the border, at this stage he hasn’t been arrested,” the government statement said.

Immigration authorities said they would continue to investigate whether Lee had broken any laws.

Lee told police that he had been assisted by unspecified “friends” in getting into China and hadn’t been “kidnapped”, according to the statement.

He reiterated that he’d traveled to the mainland to assist in an investigation into Gui, who now faces charges for selling and distributing books that are banned in China.

Lee wasn’t reachable on his mobile phone for comment.

Lee, however, had earlier voiced concerns that Gui had been taken by agents from China for “political reasons”, according to a series of personal emails reviewed by Reuters.

Chinese authorities have declined to clarify key details of the disappearances and investigation into Gui, but said law enforcement officials would never do anything illegal, especially not overseas.

Reporting by James Pomfret, Twinnie Siu and Clare Baldwin; Editing by Nick Macfie

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