A British citizen and his Chinese-American wife were convicted and sentenced to prison terms in Shanghai on Friday on charges of illegally obtaining private information of Chinese citizens. It is the first time that foreigners have been prosecuted for conducting an illegal investigation.
Peter Humphrey, 58, and his wife Yu Yingzeng, 61, were accused of being entrusted by Chinese and foreign clients to obtain background information from April 2009 to July 2013 through a consulting firm registered in Shanghai.
Humphrey was sentenced to two years and six months with a fine of 200,000 yuan (S$40,682), and he will be deported after serving the jail term. His wife was given two years and fined 150,000 yuan.
The couple have five days to appeal against the verdict.
The hearing at Shanghai First Intermediate People's Court began at 9:30 am and lasted until the nighttime. The proceedings were broadcast on text and on the court's micro blog.
The two defendants confessed to the charges in court and apologised, saying they regretted their actions.
Ruan Chuansheng, a Shanghai lawyer who specializes in criminal cases, said, "The Humphrey case has grabbed so much attention because it involves foreigners. But similar cases of violation of private information have been relatively common since the charge was introduced in 2009." In Shanghai alone, there were nearly 100 such cases in the past two years.
Ruan said Friday's trial was "normal and fair" and the defendants were allowed to testify in English.
Prosecutors say the couple bought 256 items of private information, including citizens' household registration data, entry-and-exit records and cellphone records, from three sources - Liu Hong, Cai Zhicheng and Zhou Hong-bo - who are facing separate investigations.
The couple paid between 800 and 2,000 yuan for each item and then sold the information in their investigation reports to clients, according to the prosecution.