British data trafficker released early from Chinese jail

Consultant Peter Humphrey’s case connected to GlaxoSmithKline corruption scandal

British company investigator Peter Humphrey, who was jailed in China last August for two-and-a-half years for trafficking personal data, has been released early from prison.

Mr Humphrey and his American wife Yu Yingzeng were arrested by the Chinese authorities in August 2013. They were accused of selling personal information of people to clients through research companies. Ms Yu was also jailed.

His case was connected to the GlaxoSmithKline corruption scandal, which saw GSK get fined €433 million for paying bribes to doctors to use its drugs.

He was released on health grounds and has been moved to a Shanghai hospital for tests relating to cancer. Mr Humphrey was told this week by a Shanghai court that his sentence would be reduced by seven months. He had originally been expected to be released in January next year.


Mr Humphrey and Ms Yu, who ran risk consultancy ChinaWhys, had been asked by GSK to compile a report into the origins of a sex video involving its former China head Mark Reilly, which had been sent to senior executives at the British firm along with anonymous emails alleging corruption.

Last year, Mr Humphrey appeared on Chinese television in an orange prison uniform apologising for his transgressions.

The British consulate in Shanghai is reportedly processing an emergency passport for him, so he can be deported once he is released from hospital, the source said.

In their defence at their trial, the couple told the judge they didn’t knowingly violate Chinese laws when they sought personal information about the subjects of their inquiries.

The couple founded ChinaWhys, a Shanghai-based risk management firm, which provides investigation services to companies. GlaxoSmithKline – the largest UK-listed pharmaceutical firm – was one of their clients. The two were convicted of illegally obtaining more than 200 items of private information, including household registration data, real estate documents and phone records, and reselling data.

Mr Humphrey was formerly a Reuters correspondent in Hong Kong. After leaving the news agency 14 years ago he worked as an investigator in different parts of Asia, including time at the US risk consultants Kroll and as head of China investigations at PwC, tracking white-collar crime and corporate fraud.

Ms Yingzeng is a California-educated accountant who has served as a financial controller in the United States and Hong Kong, and as a high-level advisory consultant in China.

There was no official statement on when they would be released but Ms Yu, who was sentenced to two years in jail, is expected to be let go in the coming weeks.

Mr Humphrey and Ms Yu were the first foreigners to be indicted for an illegal investigation, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

“We have been notified by the Chinese authorities that a British national detained in China has been released. We are providing consular assistance to the family,” a spokesman for the British consulate in Shanghai told Reuters.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing