UPDATED: GSK's private eye sentenced to 2.5 years in Chinese prison

Peter Hu

China finally has a verdict on the husband-wife investigator team linked to GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) bribery scandal: U.K. citizen Peter Humphrey is headed for 2.5 years behind bars, and his American wife, Yu Yingzeng, will get 2 years, Pharmafile reports.

The pair appeared before a Shanghai court Friday, where prosecutors accused them of illegally obtaining more than 250 pieces of personal information and selling them to multinational companies, according to Bloomberg. While Humphrey and Yingzeng didn't dispute the claims, they said they never intended to breach Chinese law.

"From the face of things the facts aren't wrong, but to the allegations, I don't understand China's laws," Humphrey said, as quoted by the news service. He said he wasn't in a position to discuss whether the claims against him were true or not.

Humphrey said for projects that required background checks, his firm, ChinaWhys, engaged in a third-party consultancy that provided house registration data, rather than purchasing or obtaining that data directly, Reuters reports.

"I never knew that information gotten from a third party is violating the law," Bloomberg quotes Yingzeng as saying. "Our information is third hand, we didn't know the original source of the information."

No mention was made of Glaxo, which reportedly hired the pair last year to investigate a clandestine sex tape of then-China head Mark Reilly that was distributed to other top company execs, including CEO Andrew Witty. But Humphrey has said he feels cheated by the drugmaker, which he claims didn't share the full details of the $489 million whistleblower allegations it was facing when it brought him on board.

The trial has perturbed China's risk consultancy community, Reuters says, much as the Glaxo probe spooked both doctors and sales reps after officials accused the pharma giant of bribing healthcare professionals to prescribe its drugs.

And though many have said doctor bribery is endemic in the country, companies and execs "need to be more aware" that just because something was tolerated in the past doesn't mean it will be tolerated going forward, Kevin Jones, a Shanghai-based partner at law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, told Bloomberg.

"It's pretty clear that no one--from government officials to foreigners--is immune" to China's efforts "to clean up shop," he said.

- read the Pharmafile story
- get more from Bloomberg
- see Reuters' take

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the sentencing news.