A BRITON and his American wife have been imprisoned by a Shanghai court on charges of illegally trading in the personal details of Chinese citizens, after they testified they bought such information to help companies combat fraud.
Peter Humphrey and Ying-zeng Yu, a married couple, ran a firm in the city that helped companies screen potential business partners and employees.
Their arrest last August sent a chill through foreign businesses. It came as Beijing tightened controls over information and prompted warnings that investigation of legitimate matters might be curtailed.
Humphrey and Yu worked under contract for British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmith-Kline (GSK), which is accused in a separate case of bribing Chinese doctors and hospitals to use its products.
The Chinese authorities have not indicated whether the two cases are linked.
After a one-day trial yesterday, Humphrey was sentenced by the Shanghai No 1 Intermediate Court to two and a half years in prison, to be followed by expulsion from China. Yu was sentenced to two years.
Humphrey was also fined 200,000 yuan (£19,000) and Yu 150,000 yuan.
Judge Yu Jian said the defendants had ten days to appeal once a written verdict was issued.
The couple’s 19-year-old son, Harvey, said outside the court: “Very sad about the court’s verdict, but I hope that the authorities will take into account their poor health condition.”
Humphrey and Yu acknowledged having obtained personal details about Chinese nationals but said legal restrictions on such information were unclear. Testifying in court, Yu said 90 to 95 per cent of the data they obtained had come from household registrations that list family members and their dates of birth.
She said such information was useful in revealing misconduct, such as an employee setting up a competing company under a relative’s name.
She said the firm had been paid 20,000 to 200,000 yuan per case.
“The purpose of our obtaining individual information was to help prevent and fight corporate internal corruption,” Yu said, according to a transcript released by the court.
Shanghai police have said reports prepared by Humphrey and Yu for clients “seriously violated the legitimate rights of citizens”.
They contained home addresses and information on family members, property and vehicles. Clients included manufacturers, law firms and financial institutions.
Experts say such information can make clear who controls a company or reveal family ties that might lead to conflicts of interest in the secretive Chinese business world.