China allows trial of investigators of GSK sex-tape scandal to go public

Peter Humphrey

Two weeks after raising international concerns by vowing to prosecute private investigator Peter Humphrey and his wife Yu Yingzeng in a closed trial, China has abruptly changed course. Now Humphrey and Yu, who were arrested last summer as part of China's investigation of bribery charges involving GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), will be tried in a public proceeding.

On Thursday, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court issued a statement to China's official news agency, Xinhua, saying that Humphrey, who is British, and Yu, an American, would be tried in public and are hoping their families will attend, according to Reuters. The move came after U.S. officials publicly denounced China's decision to try the couple in private as a violation of a 1982 agreement between the two countries. The British embassy also put pressure on China to make the trial transparent.

The dramatic case of the British PI and his American wife began last April, when GSK hired Humphrey's consulting firm, ChinaWhys, to investigate a former employee suspected of sending out emails related to allegations that GSK had orchestrated a $489 million bribery scheme to boost sales in China. Those emails included a sex tape of the then-chief of GSK's China unit, Mark Reilly, which was sent to the company's CEO, Andrew Witty. Shortly after ChinaWhys was hired, Humphrey and Yu were arrested and have been detained in China ever since.

On Monday, Humphrey and Yu were indicted for improperly collecting private information on Chinese citizens, including home registrations, background reports on family members, and call logs, some of which was allegedly collected illegally. The trial is set to begin August 7.

China's initial decision to hold a closed trial alarmed international officials, since the country normally reserves such private proceedings for cases that involve state secrets or national security. The change of course is welcome news, a senior official of the U.S. State Department told Reuters.

Family members of Humphrey and Yu are understandably relieved, too. "I am very pleased and grateful," said the couple's 19-year-old son, Harvey, in a statement sent to Reuters. "I certainly want to attend the trial, and I can't wait to see my parents after more than a year."

Meanwhile, the GSK scandal continues to widen. On Thursday, Xinhua also reported that Shanghai prosecutors indicted Huang Fengping, a former executive of the city's Health and Family Planning Commission, on bribery and corruption charges, according to the Financial Times. The Chinese press had previously reported that Huang's case was related to the GSK investigation.

- here's the Reuters story
- read more at the FT (reg. req.)