Until now, the widening soap opera that has left GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) facing bribery charges in China seemed to be Britain's problem. But now the United States is stepping in, as China moves to try an American in a secret courtroom procedure starting August 7.
China has barred U.S. officials from the trial of British private investigator Peter Humphrey and his American wife Yu Yingzeng. The two were arrested last year after Humphrey's firm, ChinaWhys, was hired by GSK to investigate a former employee suspected of sending out emails related to a $489 million bribery scheme the company allegedly was running. Last week, China confirmed that no outsiders would be allowed to attend the trial--not even Humphrey and Yu's 19-year-old son. The Chinese usually reserve such "closed" trials for cases that involve state secrets or national security.
"We are concerned that consular officers will not be allowed to attend Ms. Yu's trial in August 2014 despite the fact that under the 1982 bilateral consular convention between our two countries consular officials are permitted to attend such trials," U.S. Embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse told Reuters. The British embassy is also pushing for a transparent trial, according to Reuters.
China has charged GSK's former China chief Mark Reilly and two other executives with several counts of bribery that could carry lengthy prison sentences. Last year, as the probe was heating up, GSK hired ChinaWhys to investigate the former employee, who was suspected not only of sending out whistleblowing emails related to the allegations but also of emailing out a sex tape of Reilly and his girlfriend. Chinese officials have yet to make a formal link between ChinaWhys and GSK, but they arrested Humphrey and his wife for allegedly collecting private information on Chinese citizens.
Now Humphrey says he feels "cheated" by GSK. The company did not share with ChinaWhys the details of the bribery allegations, according to a note written by Humphrey and obtained by Reuters. "GSK only asked us to do a background investigation on the suspected whistleblower. They never asked us to investigate the allegations," he said. Humphrey alleges that GSK informed him that the whistleblower obtained a copy of ChinaWhys' report, and 10 days later he and his wife were arrested.
GSK has not been able to substantiate the allegations contained in the emails, the company said in a statement obtained by Reuters on Friday. "GSK takes all whistle-blowing allegations very seriously and actively encourages whistleblowers to come forward if they have concerns," the statement said.
- here's the Reuters story