BEIJING — China said on Monday that a British-American couple, who have been detained for a year after working as investigators for the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, would be tried on charges of illegally acquiring private personal information.
An article in People’s Daily, the government’s official newspaper, said that Peter Humphrey, 58, a British citizen, and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, 61, an American, had been indicted on charges of gathering personal household registrations, known as hukou; entry and exit records; phone records; and business registrations.
The couple, who are being held at the Pudong Detention Center in Shanghai, have been scheduled to appear Aug. 7 for a trial closed to the public, a family friend said. The friend spoke only on the condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu ran ChinaWhys, an investigative firm that was hired by GlaxoSmithKline to look into an anonymous whistle-blower who told Chinese regulators of bribery by the British company in its efforts to get business with Chinese doctors.
They were also hired to establish the circumstances of how a camera was placed in the Shanghai bedroom of the company’s chief manager in China, Mark Reilly. Video of Mr. Reilly with his Chinese girlfriend was emailed to Glaxo’s chief executive, Andrew Witty, in March 2013. Mr. Reilly is accused by the Chinese authorities of running a “massive bribery network.”
The Serious Fraud Office in London announced in May that it would investigate Glaxo’s commercial practices. The company is also under investigation in Europe.
Consular officials from the United States and Britain have been allowed monthly visits to the couple. Through those officials, Mr. Humphrey has been able to convey that he is willing to cooperate with the Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Justice in Washington, the friend said.
In a statement this month, Glaxo said that the company hired ChinaWhys in April 2013 to conduct an investigation after a “serious breach of privacy and security related to the company’s China general manager.” But Glaxo said that ChinaWhys was not hired to investigate the substance of the allegations of misconduct made by the whistle-blower.
In its article Monday, however, People’s Daily said Mr. Humphrey had told the newspaper’s reporters that Glaxo senior executives “proactively contacted” him in April 2013 to investigate suspected whistle-blowers who claimed bribery at Glaxo. Mr. Humphrey told People’s Daily he was paid 100,000 renminbi, or about $16,000, the newspaper said.
The health of Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu has steadily deteriorated since their detention in July 2013, to the point that Mr. Humphrey cannot stand or walk properly, and is no longer able to write, the family friend said. Ms. Yu has experienced kidney problems but has been told by a Chinese doctor at the facility: “You can function on one kidney,” the friend said.
Mr. Humphrey, a former foreign correspondent for Reuters, has shown particular concern about the health of his wife. The couple are being held in separate cells — with other foreigners — but passed each other in a corridor recently. Ms. Yu, an accountant, did not recognize Mr. Humphrey and seemed to be disoriented, the friend said, describing one of Mr. Humphrey’s messages.
After the last visit by a British consular official, Mr. Humphrey sent four messages to the couple’s teenage son, Harvey, now in Britain.
The couple’s arrest — and Mr. Humphrey’s confession and apology on national television in September — reverberated through the clandestine industry of consultants and private detectives who are considered to be an essential part of doing business for foreign corporations in China.
Weeks after his arrest, Mr. Humphrey, clad in an orange prison vest and handcuffed, appeared on Chinese national television confessing to having broken the law and offering an apology, an unnerving vision for many Western consultants.
The couple’s family expects that at the trial, the court will take into consideration the fact that Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu have cooperated with the investigation, the friend said. The maximum penalty for the charges is three years, the friend said.