British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey has been released early from his two and a half year sentence for allegedly buying personal information about private citizens. Humphrey and his wife and business partner, Yu Yingzeng, were detained after doing work for British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which was undergoing a corruption investigation. Laurie Burkitt and James Areddy report for the Wall Street Journal:
Authorities released Peter Humphrey seven months before his 2½-year sentence was to be completed, the person said. Mr. Humphrey, 59 years old, is undergoing testing for cancer and was in a Shanghai hospital on Tuesday when authorities notified him of his release, the person said. Under terms of his sentence, Mr. Humphrey is to be deported immediately after his release. He has applied for an emergency passport from the British consulate there, the person said.
[…] Mr. Humphrey’s and Ms. Yu’s case was closely watched in the foreign business community because they are well-known to many executives. It was also a rare case against private corporate investigators, and appeared to indicate toughening Chinese attitudes about handling of Chinese personal information by foreigners.
The case was connected to a high-profile scandal involving drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC. Glaxo said last July that it had hired Mr. Humphrey to investigate the origin of a sex video taken secretly in the bedroom of the drug company’s top China executive. A whistleblower whose identity was unknown sent the video along with allegations of bribery to his superiors in London, the company said.
David Barboza of the New York Times reports on the background of their case:
The Humphrey case shocked the international community in China because ChinaWhys had worked for some of the world’s biggest companies and had typically been hired to help root out corruption. But the case highlighted the risks of doing such work in China, and it suggested that investigative firms were sometimes paying to obtain access to confidential government records.
At their one-day trial in August, Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu acknowledged that ChinaWhys had bought government-issued identity records, exit and entry travel documents and mobile phone records, according to transcripts and video excerpts. The trial was closed to the news media, but the couple said they had believed that obtaining many of the records was legal.
Looming behind the trial, though, was the Glaxo case. The pharmaceutical company hired ChinaWhys to investigate a breach in privacy related to the company’s China general manager, Mr. Reilly, but also to look into the identity of a whistle-blower who had sent emails and documents to the authorities in China, according to people involved in the case. [Source]