Prosecutors in China have filed charges against a British investigator and his American wife accused of selling private data to drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as part of a growing corruption scandal, the official Xinhua news agency said Monday.
The case against Peter Humphrey, 58, and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, 61, has become a key piece in a long-running investigation into GSK, whose China executives have been charged with orchestrating a widespread network of bribery to promote sales.
The couple are alleged to have illegally obtained and sold private information. The case has been formally lodged with the Shanghai Number One Intermediate People's Court for trial, according to Xinhua.
Two family friends with knowledge of the matter told Reuters this month that the couple's trial was set for Aug. 7 and would be closed to the public. The secrecy surrounding the trial has raised concern among British and U.S. officials.
China's foreign ministry said last week the trial would be handled in accordance with the law.
ChinaWhys, the Shanghai-based risk consultancy run by the couple, was employed by GSK in April 2013 to investigate an ex-employee suspected of sending anonymous emails, including the circulation of an intimate video of former GSK China head Mark Reilly with his girlfriend, as well as emails containing allegations of widespread bribery at the British drugmaker.
The couple was accused of illegally selling a "huge amount" of personal information on Chinese citizens, Xinhua reported. The agency said that included home addresses, information about family members, details about real estate and vehicles and records of travelers entering and leaving the country.
Prosecutors say they obtained such information by illegally buying it from others as well as with hidden cameras or by following people, according to Xinhua. It said they would sell the reports to clients that were mainly multinational companies in China, such as GSK China.
In an eight-minute news report aired on Monday by state run China Central Television (CCTV), Humphrey said he and his wife "deeply regret" breaking any Chinese law. He added that ChinaWhys would not have worked with GSK if the drugmaker had informed him about the full details of the whistleblower emails.
"It was certainly not our intention to violate Chinese law," Humphrey, wearing an orange vest over his clothes, said in the interview, which the state broadcaster said was conducted a few days ago in a Shanghai police station.
Humphrey's apology reiterated a similar statement he made to CCTV in August last year after the couple was arrested.
In an emailed statement sent to Reuters, the couple's teenage son, Harvey Humphrey, said he welcomed the increased disclosure of information surrounding the case.
"If China is prepared to release so much detail about my parents, I hope I can be given access to the trial and be allowed to see them for the first time in over a year," he said.
In a written response to a request for comment from the Associated Press, Glaxo 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 whistleblower," the company said in an email.
The British Embassy in Beijing said it was providing consular help to Humphrey and his family and have told Chinese authorities they would like to attend the trial, which the court has said will be closed.
"We have made clear to the Chinese authorities that we would like embassy staff to attend the trial and the need for a transparent and fair process," the embassy said in an emailed response to questions.