STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s former ambassador to China went on trial Friday charged with unauthorized contacts with a foreign power for organizing a meeting in Stockholm between the daughter of a Swedish publisher detained in China, Beijing’s ambassador and two Chinese businessmen about the possible release of the publisher.
Broadcaster SVT said it was the first time since 1794 that a Swedish diplomat has gone on trial for such accusation. At that time, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, Sweden’s envoy to Naples, Italy, was tried for secretly communicating with Russian Empress Catherine the Great.
Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it had no advance knowledge of the January 2019 meeting arranged by former Swedish Ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt, who was summoned home for an investigation the following month.
“An ambassador has incredibly far-reaching powers, but even for them there is a limit, and we mean she has crossed that limit,” Prosecutor Henrik Olin told Swedish radio before the trial started at Stockholm District Court.
Lindstedt who could face up to two years in jail, has denied breaking the law and says she told the Foreign Ministry about the meeting.
The prosecution claimed that China wanted to influence Sweden’s democratic freedoms by trying to influence Angela Gui — the daughter of publisher Gui Minhai — and get her to stop criticizing how China handled the consular case concerning her father. The publisher, who was born in China, had since become a Swedish citizen.
Lindstedt allegedly told Angela Gui that she should fly to Stockholm on Jan. 24, 2019 to meet with her contacts regarding her father’s case.
Gui said she met with the businessmen and Lindstedt, during which the men told her they could arrange a Chinese visa and job for her and that they had connections within China’s ruling Communist Party. She said the men told her that her father could be released if she stopped talking to the media about his case, but she says when she questioned the plan, the mood “became really threatening.”
Her father co-owned a Hong Kong store that sold books about Chinese leaders. He went missing in 2015 from his seaside home in Thailand and turned up months later on Chinese television saying he had turned himself in for an alleged 2003 drunken driving accident in which a female college student was killed.
The publisher is still detained.