HONG KONG • Three of five Hong Kong booksellers missing since last October could be back home in a few days, according to Hong Kong media.
Due to their "good attitude", Lam Wing Kei, Lui Por and Cheung Ji Ping might be granted bail pending trial, reported South China Morning Post, quoting Shanghai-based online portal Thepaper.cn.
In a broadcast carried by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV on Sunday night, the three men and their boss Gui Minhai - co-owner of publishing house Mighty Current - admitted to smuggling critical political works into the Chinese mainland.
"I have deeply reflected on what I have done and very much regret the illegal book trading I have carried out with Gui Minhai," said Lui Por on Phoenix TV. "What I have done was under the influence of Gui. It was Gui dragging me down the path of crime," he was quoted as saying.
In a four-minute report that involved exclusive interviews with the four, they confessed to selling "unauthorised" books in China via an online platform and evading Customs inspections to deliver some 4,000 books to 380 customers since October 2014.
Gui said he had altered and obscured the covers of the Hong Kong-printed books with nylon bags to "evade" Customs security checks and was singled out by the others as the mastermind. The group had also opened a bank account in China to make payments.
Sunday's televised confession was the first time the disappearance of the booksellers was linked to their business in books. All five missing booksellers were from Causeway Bay Books, which specialised in gossipy books on the private lives and power struggles of China's Communist Party leaders.
Last month, Gui, a mainland-born Swedish citizen, had confessed on Chinese state-run CCTV to a fatal drink-driving incident over a decade ago, after going missing in Thailand late last year.
The Phoenix TV report also detailed how Lui, Cheung and Lam had been arrested by the Chinese authorities in neighbouring Shenzhen and Dongguan, in October, and then called upon to testify in the case.
"I know Gui Minhai's books are fabricated. They were downloaded from the Internet, and were pieced together from magazines," said Lam on Phoenix TV. "They have generated lots of rumours in society and brought a bad influence... I deeply acknowledge my mistakes and am willing to be penalised."
The TV report did not provide an update on the fifth missing bookseller - Mighty Current co-owner Lee Bo. His case triggered the most outrage as he is the only bookseller to have disappeared from Hong Kong. The others were last seen in Thailand and southern mainland China.
There were suspicion the five men had been abducted or forced to return to the mainland by Chinese security agents, fuelling fears the city's autonomy and way of life has been further eroded under Beijing's rule.