British-US Investigator Couple Jailed in China
A Briton and an American were sentenced to prison on Friday 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 Yingzeng Yu, a married couple, operated a firm in Shanghai 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.
After a one-day trial, Humphrey was sentenced by the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate Court to 2 1/2 years in prison to be followed by expulsion from China. Yu was sentenced to two years.
Humphrey was also fined 200,000 yuan ($32,000) and Yu 150,000 yuan ($25,000). The maximum possible penalty for illegally selling or providing personal information about Chinese citizens is three years in prison plus fines.
The judge, Yu Jian, said the defendants have 10 days to appeal once a written verdict is issued.
“Very sad about the court’s verdict, but I hope that the authorities will take into account their poor health condition,” the couple’s 19-year-old son, Harvey, told reporters outside the courthouse.
Humphrey and Yu acknowledged having obtained personal details about Chinese nationals but said legal restrictions on such information were unclear.
Testifying in court Friday, Yu said 90 to 95 percent of the data they obtained came from household registrations that list family members and their birthdates.
Yu 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 was paid 20,000 to 200,000 yuan ($3,200 to $32,000) 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, real estate and vehicles. Clients included manufacturers, law firms and financial institutions.
Such information can make clear who controls a company or reveal family ties that might lead to conflicts of interest in a secretive Chinese business world dominated by behind-the-scenes connections. But the ability of investigators to reveal such links might alarm political leaders who want to hide wealth amassed by their family, and business figures who profit from ties to the ruling Communist Party.
Date: August 8, 2014
Source: Associated Press