The trial of a husband-and-wife team of investigators working in China began in a Shanghai court today, and it doesn’t look good for the defendants.
Peter Humphrey, a British national, and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, who is American, have been charged for illegally obtaining and selling the personal information of Chinese citizens. The couple’s consultancy, ChinaWhys, was working with GlaxoSmithKline to investigate a complicated bribery and blackmail scandal that resulted in an ongoing Chinese investigation of the pharmaceutical giant’s business practices.
The verdict is unlikely to be anything other than guilty. Only 891 defendants out of 1.1 million tried in 2011 were acquitted, according to data from the Supreme People’s Court. That puts China’s conviction rate at about 99.9%. (In Japan, the conviction rate is also high, around 99.4% in the country’s reformed lay judge system for cases that can end in death or serious punishment. In 2011, 93% of cases tried in US federal courts defendants either pleaded or were found guilty.)
In China, in particularly sensitive cases, sentencing committees often decide the verdict in advance of the trial, John Kamm, of the California-based human rights group Dui Hua, told Bloomberg.
Some observers say Humphrey and his wife may be given leniency in their sentencing because of their foreign nationalities. Humphrey issued a public confession (paywall) on Chinese state television last year, which could also buy them more leeway. Still, others say the government will want to demonstrate that no one gets a free pass from the ongoing anti-corruption crackdown—or is immune to the pre-ordained outcomes of the Chinese justice system.