GSK probe pair Peter Humphrey and Yu Yingzeng indicted for illegally obtaining private information

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 12:34pm

Husband and wife investigators for the scandal-hit British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline have been indicted by Shanghai prosecutors on charges of illegally obtaining and selling private information.

Briton Peter Humphrey and his Chinese-born wife, Yu Yingzeng, who holds a United States passport, were arrested last July as mainland authorities investigated GSK.

The drugmaker is accused of funnelling up to three billion yuan (HK$3.8 billion) through travel agencies to bribe doctors and officials to prescribe its medications.

The case against Humphrey and Yu marks the first time foreigners have faced such charges in China.

In the past we thought acquiring private information is in a grey area
Yu Yingzeng

Humphrey, 58, and Yu, 61, are part of an investigation industry that helps corporate clients screen potential partners and employees or watch for embezzlement and other misconduct.

The couple founded a risk consultancy named ChinaWhys in Shanghai at the end of 2003.

According to Xinhua, prosecutors said the couple trafficked a "huge amount" of personal information including home addresses, information about family members, property and vehicles and overseas travel records, which they obtained by illegally buying it from others as well as by using hidden cameras or by following people.

The Legal Daily reported that the investigation reports containing the information were sold to clients, bringing in millions of yuan in income each year.

ChinaWhys had dealings with more than 700 companies, mostly multinational enterprises with divisions in China, such as GSK.

Humphrey has reportedly said that in April last year, he was contacted by GSK China head Mark Reilly to investigate former employees suspected of sending anonymous e-mails to mainland authorities.

Humphrey said Reilly turned down his request to see those e-mails. "Reilly said the things mentioned in the e-mails were non-existent and just smeared his company," Humphrey reportedly said, adding that he felt "betrayed and used" by GSK.

The case against Reilly has been handed over to prosecutors.

Humphrey and Yu reportedly said they were not aware their business of buying and selling private information was banned in China.

"In the past we thought acquiring private information is in a grey area, and now we know it's wrong," Yu was quoted as saying. But police said they should have known it was illegal because a man who had "cooperated" with them by selling them private information for six years was jailed early last year.

In a written response to a request for comment, GSK cited a July 3 statement that said Humphrey and Yu's firm was hired in April 2013 to investigate "a serious breach of privacy and security related to" Reilly.

"They were not hired to investigate the substance of the allegations of misconduct made by the whistle-blower," the company said in an e-mail.

The British embassy in Beijing said it was providing consular help to Humphrey and his family.

Additional reporting by Associated Press