July 4, 2014 12:18 pm

America and Britain flag concerns over GSK trial

A Chinese national flag is seen in front of a GlaxoSmithKline office building in Shanghai©Reuters

The US and UK have voiced concern about China’s decision to try in secret a British private investigator and his American wife next month after the couple were arrested following work they did for GlaxoSmith
, the UK drugmaker.

US consular officials in China were notified this week that they would not be allowed to attend the trial of Peter Humphrey and Yu Yingzeng, and friends of the couple say their teenage son is also expecting to be barred.

“We are concerned that US consular officers will not be allowed to attend the trial of Yingzeng Yu in August 2014, despite the fact that under the 1982 bilateral consular convention between the US and China consular officials are permitted to attend such trials,” said Nolan Barkhouse, US Embassy spokesman in Beijing.

Britain’s Foreign Office said on Friday: “We have made clear to the Chinese authorities that we would like embassy staff to attend the trial and the need for a transparent and fair process.”

Mr Humphrey’s company, ChinaWhys, which he runs with his wife, was hired by GSK in April 2013 to investigate a former employee whom the company suspected of waging a “smear campaign” against it.

The couple were arrested in July 2013 and charged with illegally purchasing confidential information. They have been in prison since and are due to stand trial on August 7.

Chinese authorities have not confirmed that they were charged in connection with their work for GSK, but friends of Mr Humphrey and his wife say they have no doubt it was the trigger for their arrest.

The case is part of a broader scandal facing GSK in China after police in May said they had found “massive and systemic bribery” by the company and identified the former head of its Chinese business, Mark Reilly, among the suspects.

Private eye thrust into spotlight

A flag of Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) (L) flies over its facilities in Shanghai on July 25, 2013. GlaxoSmithKline expects its performance in China to take a hit from Beijing's probe into bribery allegedly carried out by senior staff, the British drugs firm said on July 24, and described the matter as "shameful". CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Peter Humphrey’s failure to unearth any real dirt only adds to the mystery surrounding the charges against him and his wife, and why their trial will be heard in secret

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In a note dictated from prison and seen this week by the Financial Times, Mr Humphrey accused GSK of failing to reveal the full extent of corruption allegations against the company when he was hired and said he felt “cheated” by the drugmaker.

The saga grew murkier this week when GSK confirmed Mr Humphrey was recruited after Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive, was sent a secretly filmed video of Mr Reilly in bed with his girlfriend.

GSK probed whether Vivian Shi, the company’s well-connected former head of government affairs, might have orchestrated the video as part of a vendetta against her former employer.

Ms Shi could not be reached for comment. Mr Humphrey’s investigation failed to find any conclusive evidence that she was responsible for the video or a series of whistleblower emails alleging widespread corruption by GSK’s Chinese business.

The UK minister for consular affairs, Mark Simmonds, raised Mr Humphrey’s case with China’s foreign affairs ministry when he visited Beijing in April, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr Simmonds expressed concerns for Mr Humphrey’s health and asked if he could be granted bail. Chinese officials said he was not eligible for bail.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey

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