September 26, 2020

China Arrests British Adviser Hired by GlaxoSmithKline

The investigator, Peter Humphrey, has been held by the Shanghai police since early July. He is managing director of ChinaWhys, a risk management consulting firm that has done work for GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical group that is facing graft and bribery allegations in China, raising speculation that his detention might be linked to that case.

A spokeswoman for the British Embassy, Hannah Oussedik, would say only that he had been formally arrested. “We can confirm the arrest of a British national, Peter Humphrey, in Shanghai, China, on Monday, 19th August,” Ms. Oussedik said in a brief telephone interview. “We are providing consular assistance to the family.”

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported Mr. Humphrey’s arrest, said that his wife, Yu Yingzeng, was also formally arrested in Shanghai, and that they were both accused of illegally buying information about people. Ms. Oussedik said that she could not confirm those details. Ms. Yu is a naturalized American citizen. American officials in Beijing and Shanghai declined to comment.

The formal arrest means the police have more time to pursue their investigation of the couple before deciding to drop the case or seek an indictment.

China’s rough-and-tumble commercial environment, in which laws and rules are often arbitrarily enforced or ignored, can make work in private corporate investigations risky. But Mr. Humphrey, a former journalist for Reuters, had worked in the area for more than a decade. He co-founded ChinaWhys in 2003, and his wife is a co-founder and general manager, according to the company’s Web site.

One acquaintance of Mr. Humphrey who asked not to be identified said he appeared to have been arrested in connection with his work for GlaxoSmithKline.

The government has detained four of Glaxo’s Chinese executives in connection with an investigation of bribery and tax fraud. Glaxo distanced itself from some of the former executives after investigators said the executives had confessed to fraud.

Officials at multinational corporations operating in China have complained in recent weeks that the Chinese government is using law enforcement to weaken international competitors in commercial sectors where Chinese companies are not strong or have spent very little money to develop their own products.

“It’s a hugely political thing,” the acquaintance of Mr. Humphrey said. “They’re just using him as a lever to force the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices.”

The person added that, although Mr. Humphrey had worked for Glaxo, it was not clear whether he was doing so when he was detained last month.

The detention of Mr. Humphrey and his wife is even more politically delicate because his wife is part of a well-connected Chinese family.

Chris Buckley and Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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