GSK's image took another blow this week after Chinese authorities formally slapped charges on Briton Peter Humphrey and his American-Chinese wife Yu Ying Zeng for violating the country’s privacy laws. They were detained last year along with a number of GSK executives following after a major bribery scandal came to light. According to the state news agency Xinhua the couple illegally obtained private information on a number a large number of private individuals, including household registration data, real estate and vehicle documents, as well as phone records.
The husband and wife team were hired by GSK China’s CEO Mark Reilly in April 2013 to identify a suspected employee who sent a series of e-mails to GSK head office in London and the Chinese government alleging a widespread practice of bribery. The anonymous whistleblower even circulated a video that showed Reilly having sex with his girlfriend.
Reilly, who stepped down last July, is accused of orchestrating a widespread and fraudulent practice of bribery throughout the company that prosecutors say enticed doctors and medical staff in state hospitals to recommend GSK products. Local press reports say the firm may have disbursed up to $482 million in bribes.
In a news report aired by state run China Central Television (CCTV), Humphrey said that he and his wife "deeply regret" breaking Chinese law. He added that he would not have worked with GSK if the drugmaker had informed him about the full details of the whistleblower emails.
The case against Humphrey, 58 and Ying Zeng, 61 has become a centrepiece in a long-running saga that has seen GSK’s corporate reputation in China tarnished. The two former journalists are said to be the first foreigners indicted for conducting illegal private investigation in China.
The trial, which has been set for 7 August, is expected to take place behind closed doors and the secrecy surrounding it has raised concerns in the West about the health of the two accused and on the fairness of the Chinese legal system. Humphrey suffers from arthritis and has been denied medication while Yu has been denied treatment for kidney trouble. Xinhua has called the GSK case "a warning to other multinationals in China that ethics matter."