STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s former ambassador to China acted against the policy of the government by taking part in an unauthorized meeting in Stockholm last year aimed at freeing dissident bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish court heard on Friday.
Anna Lindstedt, who was replaced as ambassador in February 2019, has been charged with exceeding her authority in dealings with a foreign power in the first case of its kind in modern Swedish history. She denies the accusation.
“She has acted in contradiction to current Swedish foreign policy,” prosecutor Henrik Olin told Reuters after the first day of the trial.
“Even if her intentions were good and her aim was to get Gui Minhai freed, you cannot just act in any way you please, even as an ambassador.”
Olin said that Lindstedt had not consulted properly with the foreign ministry prior to the meeting and had not reported back after the meeting was over.
Lindstedt’s lawyer referred to a statement sent on Thursday, before the trial began.
“There was no negotiation with China and the ministry was informed of the meeting,” Lindstedt said in the statement.
Gui, a Hong Kong-based publisher of books critical of China’s communist leaders and also a Swedish citizen, was abducted in Thailand in 2015 and later appeared in custody in mainland China.
Beijing says Gui is being held on suspicion of revealing state secrets and intelligence on China.
The Stockholm meeting took place in January last year. Gui’s daughter Angela said in her blog that she had been invited by Lindstedt to meet two unidentified businessmen who could help secure her father’s release.
Gui said she was advised to keep quiet about her father’s case while negotiations were proceeding.
Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said neither it nor the foreign minister had been informed of the meeting until afterwards.
The bookseller’s case has soured relations between Sweden and China, also under strain over security concerns.
The government is planning to tighten takeover rules in relation to strategic assets, while Sweden’s security police said earlier this year that China and Russia represent the biggest threats to national security.
Lindstedt could face a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The trial is expected to conclude on June 18.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)