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Son of Briton on trial in China: Drugs company GlaxoSmithKline misled my parents

A British man and his American wife are accused of illegally obtaining and selling private information on Chinese nationals.

The trial of Peter Humphrey and Yu Yingzeng, who ran a risk consultancy in Shanghai called ChinaWhys, could be key to a Chinese government bribery investigation into pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Here, Peter Humphrey's son Harvey tells ITV News the British firm misled his parents leaving them facing trial in Shanghai.

Harvey Humphrey - the son of British private investigator Peter Humphrey - told ITV News the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline misled his parents, which has meant they’ve spent the last 12 months behind bars in China.

Harvey Humphrey talking to ITV News' China Correspondent Lucy Watson. Credit: ITV News

If I have to apportion some blame it’s not to the Chinese, but to GlaxoSmithKline for getting them involved. It seems like they misled my Dad. I don’t know if it was intentional or unintentional, but they misled him.

The Chinese have pretty much admitted that this case is connected to GSK, and that only strengthens my feelings that GSK are the cause of the problem. I guess I feel a certain amount of anger towards GSK.

– Harvey Humphrey

Both Peter Humphrey, and his American wife Yu Yingzeng, ran ChinaWhys, a corporate investigations’ company, in Shanghai.

They were hired by GSK to find out the origins of a smear campaign - which made large scale bribery allegations about the multi-national firm and it’s China boss, Mark Reilly.

The Chinese government launched a bribery investigation into GlaxoSmithKline. Credit: Reuters

GSK insisted that an initial, internal investigation into these corruption claims “did not find evidence to substantiate the specific allegations made in the whistleblower emails."

The couple took the job, and as part of it, both are now accused of illegally obtaining and selling the private information of Chinese citizens and corporations.

Meanwhile, the corruption investigation into GlaxoSmithKline continues, with no trial date yet set for that.

Peter Humphrey and his American wife went on trial in Shanghai. Credit: CCTV/AP

Harvey told me he always had reservations about the industry his father evolved in.

It was always a hazard, especially working in a rather murky business environment like China, and it was always in the back of my mind. I knew it could happen one day. That’s why I wasn't shocked at the arrest.

It is about revealing information. It’s about revealing corruption and occasionally you will end up upsetting the wrong people unintentionally and that’s probably my feeling about what’s happened. It’s always there. It’s an occupational hazard.

– Harvey Humphrey

I also spoke to a Chinese private detective, Wei Wujun, who explained that the corporate investigation field comes under little regulation.

It’s very easy to do this job because the authorities do not manage this business properly. The whole industry is messed up.

There are many people in this field doing illegal things, such as invading other peoples’ privacy, and most detectives in China make money through fraud and by cheating.

– Wei Wujun, Chinese private detective

But, Harvey maintains that his father "firmly believed in tackling corruption wherever he was."

Today, Humphrey and his wife have appeared at Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People’s Court in what’s being described as an “open” trial, yet foreign journalists are not allowed inside the courtroom, only into a separate room where an overhead projector delivers a written feed of the proceedings in Chinese.

An internal court video shows British investigator Peter Humphrey arriving at a courtroom. Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Only a photograph, posted online by the court, and taken from behind, showed Humphrey dressed in a black suit, and his wife clad in red. Both were physically held by court bailiffs. We could not see their faces.

This trial is supposed to start and finish in one day.

American Yu Yingzeng ran ChinaWhys with her British husband. Credit: .

On two occasions the pair have been paraded on Chinese state television appearing to confess and apologise for breaking Chinese law. Harvey believes that, because of this, their sentences will be reduced.

The fact that they have confessed, I think, will lighten the sentence. The Chinese system is based on acknowledging your faults so I don’t think the sentence will be that high. Chinese lawyers are probably advising them to admit to everything because that’s the way China works.

Just admit to everything. It’s not the same as in the West. You have to go for mitigation. If you go for not guilty you have a much harder time.

– Harvey Humphrey

The maximum jail term for these offences is three years, but both defendants are suffering from ill health and have already served more than 12 months.

Today’s trial could draw a difficult year for the 19-year-old to a close.

Harvey Humphrey waits to enter court today. Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Harvey told me that he’s had to transform from a boy to a man in just 12 months, and be responsible for the family’s assets and finances. He hasn’t spoken to his mother or father on the telephone or seen them during this time.

The family’s sort of broken at the moment. I rely on a lot of their guidance in life and it’s been a stressful year and I’ve had to make my own way but I think I am getting there.

– Harvey Humphrey

Today, he is allowed to see them, inside the courtroom.

He now has very simple hopes for the next few months. He wants to start his engineering degree at Bristol University in September like a normal student and son, with his mother and father back in the UK with him.

A GlaxoSmithKline spokesman gave the following statement to ITV News:

The issues relating to our China business are very difficult and complicated.

GSK takes all whistle-blowing allegations very seriously and actively encourages whistle-blowers to come forward if they have concerns. Investigations into the allegations made in early 2013 about GSK’s business in China were conducted over several months with the support of external legal and audit advice. Some fraudulent behaviour relating to expense claims was identified, and this resulted in employee dismissals and further changes to our monitoring procedures in China. However, this investigation did not find evidence to substantiate the specific allegations made in the whistleblower emails.

GSK China hired ChinaWhys in April 2013 to conduct an investigation following a serious breach of privacy and security related to the company’s China general manager. They were not hired to investigate the substance of the allegations of misconduct made by the whistleblower.

Our China business is now subject to an ongoing investigation by the Chinese authorities with which we are fully cooperating. We have also hired an external law firm, Ropes and Gray, to conduct an independent review into what happened in our China business during this period.

We have zero tolerance for any kind of corruption in our business and we have many policies, procedures and controls in place to monitor this and take action against any breaches.

As we have said previously, the allegations that have been raised are deeply concerning to us. We are learning lessons from this situation and we are determined to take all actions necessary as a result.

– GlaxoSmithKline spokesman