By Lynn Lee and James Leong

One by one they vanished.

Five men - all linked to a Hong Kong bookstore known for publishing books critical of China's leaders - disappeared in a mystery worthy of a Hollywood thriller.

In an exhaustive investigation, 101 East pursued the twists and turns of the case from Hong Kong to Thailand, the United States, and Britain.

As we spoke with family and associates of the five men to unravel who was behind their disappearances, the political intrigue grew increasingly complex, with rumours rife that the Chinese government was responsible.

The booksellers, who were all connected to Causeway Bay Bookstore and Mighty Current publishing house, have resurfaced, but they have given few details about what happened.

Here we decipher who's who in this complex case.

Gui Minhai, publisher and investor in Causeway Bay Bookstore [Al Jazeera]

Gui Minhai 

  • Publisher and investor in Causeway Bay Bookstore
  • Swedish national and Hong Kong resident
  • October 17, 2015: Disappears from his holiday home in Pattaya, Thailand
  • January 17, 2016: Appears on Chinese state television, confesses to involvement in a fatal hit-and-run accident in 2003
  • Gui's London-based daughter says she received a message from him after he went missing, but she believes it was written by someone else
  • February 2016: Gui appears on television again, this time confessing to smuggling
  • April 2016: Thought to still be in mainland China
Lee Bo, British national and resident of Hong Kong [Al Jazeera]

Lee Bo

  • British national and resident of Hong Kong
  • Major shareholder in Causeway Bay Bookstore
  • Commissioned book critical of China due for publication in January 
  • Emailed Angela Gui that her father had been abducted by special agents from China for political reasons
  • December 30, 2015: Disappears. Last seen at Mighty Current's warehouse in Hong Kong
  • January 4: Faxed handwritten note to business partner explaining that he went to China using "his own methods" to assist in an unspecified investigation
  • February 29, 2016: Meets Hong Kong police and immigration officers on Chinese mainland  
  • Announces on mainland Chinese television that he is giving up his British citizenship and that he came to China to assist investigation into his colleague, Gui Minhai
  • March 24, 2016: Returns briefly to Hong Kong
  • Thought to have travelled back to mainland China
Lam Wing Kee, Causeway Bay Bookstore founder and store manager [Al Jazeera]

Lam Wing Kee

  • Causeway Bay Bookstore founder and store manager
  • October 2015: Goes missing, possibly while visiting Shenzhen in China
  • February 4, 2016: Guangdong police confirm Lam is being investigated
  • February 28, 2016: In a television interview, admits to distributing unauthorised books on the Chinese mainland
  • March 31, 2016: Reportedly released on bail, still in mainland China
Lui Por, general manager of and a major shareholder in Mighty Current Publishing [Al Jazeera]

Lui Por

  • General manager of and a major shareholder in Mighty Current Publishing
  • October 2015: Disappears in Shenzhen, China
  • February 4, 2016: Guangdong police confirm Lui is being investigated on Chinese mainland
  • February 28, 2016: In a television interview, admits to distributing unauthorised books on Chinese mainland
  • March 4, 2016: Reappears in Hong Kong and asks Hong Kong police to cancel his missing persons case
Cheung Chi Pin, business manager of Mighty Current Publishing [Al Jazeera]

Cheung Chi Ping 

  • Business manager of Mighty Current Publishing
  • October 2015: Disappears in Dongguan, China
  • February 4, 2016: Guangdong police confirm Cheung is being investigated
  • February 28, 2016: In a television interview, admits to distributing unauthorised books on Chinese mainland
  • March 6, 2016: Reappears in Hong Kong and asks Hong Kong police to cancel his missing persons case

There is one other mystery character who keeps reappearing throughout the investigations:

Chan Hin Shing, 'Mystery Man', owner of massage parlour [Al Jazeera]

Chan Hin Shing

  • Owner of a massage parlour
  • Despite no previous publishing experience, he becomes a generous investor in Causeway Bay Bookstore
  • Receives handwritten fax from Lee Bo explaining his disappearance
  • Filmed with policemen at the bookshop after Lee Bo's disappearance
  • Accompanies Lee Bo on his return to Hong Kong from mainland China
  • Accompanies Lee Bo on his later return to mainland China
  • Friends of the booksellers believe he was acting on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party

 

Source: Al Jazeera