Chinese state television has broadcast a public confession by British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey, who has been held with his American wife since last month, possibly as part of a corruption investigation into multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Mr Humphrey and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, were formally arrested in Shanghai on August 16th and charged with operating illegal research companies and trafficking personal information about Chinese citizens, police said.
“The way we acquired information was sometimes illegal. I feel very regretful about it and want to apologise to the Chinese government,” Mr Humphrey said in a report on state broadcaster CCTV.
Public apologies are common by Chinese officials and celebrities accused of wrongdoing, but such a confession by a foreigner is rare.
The married couple operate ChinaWhys, an investigation firm in Shanghai that serves corporate clients. They were detained in July, coinciding with the announcement of an investigation into allegations of bribery of doctors by employees of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline..
There were suggestions of a link, as ChinaWhys had worked for GSK in the past.
The TV report showed Mr Humphrey making the confession wearing an orange prison vest, and carried footage of Ms Yu, also wearing prison gear and in handcuffs, being led by police officers.
The report featured interviews with police officers and showed the couple’s offices being raided.
"Investigation found that the couple illegally trafficked a huge amount of personal information on Chinese citizens to seek profits via registering so-called research companies in Hong Kong and Shanghai since 2003," the Xinhua news agency reported.
Among the 500 investigative reports seized by police, more than 10 were found to have infringed on Chinese citizens’ right of privacy, police told Xinhua. The personal information traded by the couple included residence addresses, family members, exit-entry information and real estate, police said.
Mr Humphrey was previously a Reuters correspondent. For the past 14 years he has worked as an investigator in Asia, tracking white-collar crime and corporate fraud, as well as carrying out crisis management.
Ms Yu has worked for or advised companies in the US, Hong Kong and China in technology, medical products and other industries over a 25-year business career, according to the ChinaWhys website.
Police in Shanghai have arrested 126 people for illegal personal-information trafficking and solved more than 140 related cases in the first 10 days of August, Xinhua reported.
The British embassy in Beijing confirmed last week that Mr Humphrey had been arrested and said it was providing consular assistance, but gave no details of charges.