A British investigator once hired by scandal-hit pharmaceutical giant GSK in China went on trial Friday for breaching privacy laws, with the court saying he did not generally dispute the accusations.
Peter Humphrey and his American wife Yu Yingzeng were hired to investigate the source of a lurid sex tape of the China boss of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), shortly before the British firm became embroiled in bribery allegations.
Chinese prosecutors accused the couple of illegally obtaining more than 200 items of information on Chinese individuals, which they resold to clients.
"Generally speaking... I don't dispute (the prosecutor's indictment)," Peter Humphrey told the Number One People's Intermediate Court in Shanghai, it said on a verified microblog account.
It posted a picture of Humphrey facing a judge wearing a dark suit while Yu wore a smart red jacket, each of them with an arm gripped by a uniformed officer.
Foreign media were not allowed into the courtroom. The transcripts posted during the morning did not include any mention of GSK.
"We sold consulting services, which sometimes included personal information," Humphrey said according to the court, adding that he was unclear about the relevant laws and details of particular cases.
"We asked other companies to help us to obtain people's household registration information, and we would pay a fee." he said.
He denied an accusation that he had "tailed" clients, but said he may have sent staff to "stand outside" an office to monitor it.
"The services we supplied aim at reducing risks, especially risks in regard to fraud and corruption," he added.
At least one translator and three defence lawyers were present, the court said.
- Conviction rate -
The case has raised concerns amongst foreign investors in China, who often hire independent investigators to conduct due-diligence investigations into Chinese companies.
Chinese courts have a near-perfect conviction rate in criminal cases -- 99.93 percent last year -- and the couple are almost certain to be found guilty.
State media have cited legal experts saying the maximum penalty for illegally obtaining and trading personal information is three years in prison.
Chinese authorities are investigating several foreign pharmaceutical firms over pricing and other issues.
GSK has been accused of systemic corruption, and in May its former China boss Mark Reilly was charged with ordering employees to bribe hospitals, doctors and health institutions to gain billions of dollars in revenue.
China's healthcare sector is widely considered to be riddled with graft, partly the result of an opaque tendering system for drugs and doctors' low salaries.
Humphrey, a former journalist and longtime China resident who founded an investigative firm, ChinaWhys, was reportedly hired by GSK to look into the origin of a covertly filmed video of Reilly and a girlfriend.
Humphrey's wife worked as ChinaWhys' general manager.
The duo have been paraded in prison suits by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), which earlier aired a televised "confession" by an unshaven Humphrey.
China originally said the couple's trial would be held in secret, but the Shanghai court said last month it would hold an "open trial".
In practice that has meant the delayed transcripts of the trial being posted on the microblog account, which was being shown on a screen to reporters in a separate room in the court building.