July 17, 2014 / 4:05 PM / in 4 years

China to hold public trial of foreign couple who worked for GSK

BEIJING, July 17 (Reuters) - China will try in public a foreign couple linked to drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc on charges of illegally obtaining private information, state media said, after the United States and Britain raised concerns about access to the trial.

Chinese prosecutors announced charges against British investigator Peter Humphrey and his U.S. wife on Monday. The couple were detained last year following work they did for the British pharmaceutical firm.

Two family friends with knowledge of the matter told Reuters this month that the trial was set for Aug. 7 and would be closed to the public. The secrecy around the trial had raised concerns among British and U.S. officials.

The couple “will be tried in public” the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday, citing a statement from the Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People’s Court.

“The two defendants hope their families can attend the trail,” Xinhua said. It did not give further information on the decision.

The case against Humphrey and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, 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 U.S. and British embassies had pressed China on the need for a transparent and fair trial. The United States cited a 1982 bilateral consular convention between the two countries that it said gave officials permission to attend such trials.

China’s Foreign Ministry had said the proceedings would be handled according to law.

ChinaWhys, the risk consultancy run by the couple, was employed by GSK in April 2013 to investigate a former 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.

Humphrey appeared on state-run China Central Television (CCTV) on Monday, saying he and his wife “deeply regret” breaking any Chinese law. He added that their firm would not have worked with GSK if the drugmaker had informed him about the full details of the whistleblower emails.

His apology reiterated a similar statement he made to CCTV in August last year after the couple were arrested.

Courts in China are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and defendants are almost always convicted. Access to trials is extremely limited.

“I am very pleased and grateful. I certainly want to attend the trial, and I can’t wait to see my parents after more than a year,” the couple’s son, Harvey Humphrey, said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Xinhua had reported earlier that Humphrey and Yu had paid people in Beijing and Shanghai to purchase personal information. Citing the prosecutor on the case, the news agency alleged they had been fully aware of the illegality of their actions.

Between 2009 and 2013, the couple obtained private information through investigations into nearly 1,000 firms and a large number of private individuals, including household registration data, real estate and vehicle documents, and phone records, Xinhua added.

Humphrey had worked for Reuters as a journalist in the 1980s and 1990s. (Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai; editing by Jane Baird)

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