Chinese authorities have indicted British and American investigators hired by GlaxoSmithKline on charges of illegally obtaining and selling private information, according to state media reports yesterday, as the Briton blamed the pharmaceutical company for misleading and using him.
British investigator Peter Humphrey and his wife Yingzeng Yu, a Chinese-born US citizen, were charged in Shanghai’s No 1 Intermediate People’s Court, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said this is the first time foreigners have faced such charges.
Mr Humphrey, 58, and Ms Yu, 61, are part of an industry of investigators who help corporate clients screen potential business partners and employees, and watch for embezzlement and other employee misconduct.
Their arrest last year coincided with a Chinese investigation of accusations that GlaxoSmithKline paid bribes to doctors and officials to use its medications. Glaxo said it hired the couple last year to investigate a security breach involving a top manager.
The indictment received prominent coverage in China. Reports by state broadcaster CCTV showed the pair being separately interviewed by Chinese reporters. They were shown seated and wearing orange vests that are typical uniforms of detainees as they answered questions.
The couple, who ran Shanghai firm ChinaWhys Ltd, were accused of illegally selling personal information on Chinese citizens, Xinhua said, including home addresses, information about family members, details about real estate and vehicles, and records of travellers entering and leaving the country.
Prosecutors said they obtained such information by illegally buying it from others, as well as using hidden cameras or by following people, Xinhua reported. It said they would sell the reports to clients that were mainly multinational companies in China such as GSK China.
Chinese media reported at the weekend that Mr Humphrey said he was contacted in April 2013 by GSK’s then-China manager, Mark Reilly, who wanted him to find out who leaked allegations of bribery at the firm to senior executives and the Chinese authorities.
Mr Reilly, who is British, is at the centre of a major investigation into corruption in China’s medical industry. In May, he was accused of leading a sprawling scheme to bribe doctors and hospitals to use GSK’s drugs. Mr Reilly’s case has been turned over to prosecutors.
Mr Humphrey said on state television that he found out during his investigation that the bribery claims were true, and if he had known that earlier he would not have carried out the inquiry. Mr Humphrey said he felt “betrayed and used” by the pharmaceutical firm.
In a written response to a request for comment, Glaxo cited a 3 July statement that said Mr Humphrey and Ms Yu’s firm was hired in April 2013 to investigate “a serious breach of privacy and security related to” Mr Reilly.
The company said in an email: “They were not hired to investigate the substance of the allegations of misconduct made by the whistleblower.”
The British Embassy in Beijing said it was providing consular help to Mr Humphrey and his family and have told Chinese authorities they would like to attend the trial, which the court has said will be closed. A trial date has not been announced.
“We have made clear to the Chinese authorities … the need for a transparent and fair process,” the embassy said.