GSK sleuth Peter Humphrey caught by increasing Chinese restrictions on obtaining information

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 4:55am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 9:35am

Peter Humphrey was caught, literally, by the increasing restrictions on obtaining information on the mainland. The Briton and his American wife, Yu Yingzeng, will be tried this morning at the Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court for illegally obtaining personal information of Chinese citizens.

In April last year, Humphrey was hired by senior executives of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Britain's largest drug firm, to investigate a suspected whistle-blower who alleged bribery in GSK's China operations.

In May last year, the website of his risk consultancy firm, ChinaWhys, posted his article describing how fraud investigations had become more difficult in China, because private detectives could no longer freely access corporate information on the mainland. It was the last article by Humphrey posted on the website before he and Yu were detained in Shanghai in July last year.

"Peter is a well-established figure in the Chinese investigative sector," said Jeremy Gordon, a founder and director of China Business Services, a risk consultancy based in London.

"Since Peter's arrest, risk consultancies have been more careful on what kind of projects they take on and the methods they use. It certainly had a cautionary effect on the risk-consulting sector," said a Hong Kong-based risk consultant who declined to be named.

"The writing had been on the wall. Everyone knew two events significantly increased the risk of conducting investigative research in China - the 2011 examination of Sino Forest's Chinese assets and the 2012 New York Times exposé of China's princelings," said Ambrose Carey, a director of Alaco, a risk consultancy headquartered in London.

"Rather than improve corporate governance or launch their own investigations into allegations of corruption within the Chinese political elite, the authorities preferred to make it harder to get hold of information," Carey said.

A former classmate of 58-year-old Humphrey remembered him as hardworking and ambitious when they studied Sinology at Durham University in Britain.

The classmate recalled: "He's quite a combative character with strong opinions. He's very committed to whatever he's going to do."

A career in journalism followed, with stints with the China Daily when it was established in 1981, the South China Morning Post as an external contributor and Reuters in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

After 18 years in journalism, Humphrey served as China country manager for US risk consultancy Kroll and head of China investigations at PwC, a "big four" accounting firm, said ChinaWhys' website.