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British investigator held in China

A Briton and his American wife have been arrested as part of a bid to clampdown on the trade in information in China.

Police announced the arrest of the two corporate investigators who work in Shanghai, on charges of improperly selling personal information about Chinese citizens.

Peter Humphrey and Yingzeng Yu, a married couple, are part of an industry of investigators who help corporate clients screen potential partners and employees or watch for embezzlement and other employee misconduct.

"The opaque nature of the investigation and detention of the Humphreys is troubling at best and puts a serious chilling effect on legitimate efforts to investigate even benign, public information," said James Zimmerman, managing partner of the Beijing office of the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton.

Several dozen reports prepared by Humphrey and Yu for corporate clients contained information that "seriously violated the legitimate rights of citizens," the Shanghai police department said in a statement. It said they were formally arrested on August 16. That included home addresses and information on family members, real estate and vehicles, the statement said. It said they were sold to clients including manufacturers, law firms and financial institutions.

Humphrey's and Yu's firm, ChinaWhys Ltd., says on its website it "specializes in discreet risk mitigation solutions, consulting and investigation services" aimed at "walking multinationals through the labyrinth of opportunity, risk and unfamiliar cultural environment."

Humphrey, a former reporter for the Reuters news agency, has worked as an investigator for the past 14 years in Asia, focusing on white-collar crime prevention, fraud investigation and crisis mitigation, according to the website. It says Yu has worked for or advised companies in the United States, Hong Kong and China in technology, medical products and other industries over a 25-year business career.

Humphrey and Yu are accused of paying £80 to £200 per item of personal information, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

A report about the case on the state television midday news showed two people in handcuffs with their faces blurred. "To obtain this information, I sometimes used illegal means," said the man, a Westerner, speaking in Mandarin. "I want to apologize to the Chinese government."

The British Embassy in Beijing confirmed last week that Humphrey was arrested but gave no details of charges. The embassy said it was providing unspecified consular assistance to his family.

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