On Friday, a Shanghai court convicted two GlaxoSmithKline plc (NYSE:GSK) (LON:GSK) corporate investigators, a UK citizen and his American wife, for illegally purchasing personal information on Chinese citizens.

GlaxoSmithKline china

The trial of Peter William Humphrey and his partner and wife, Yu Yingzeng has been closely watched given its implications on the treatment of business data. Humphrey was sentenced to two years and six months, will be deported and fined 200,000 yuan ($32,500), and Yu was given a two-year sentence and a fine of 150,000 yuan. Yu will not be deported.

More on the GlaxoSmithKline case

The arrest of the couple last year sent shock waves through the foreign business community because the two were well-known and had been hired in the past by a number of large multinational companies operating in China. Moreover, they were arrested just days after Chinese authorities brought bribery allegations against UK-based GlaxoSmithKline plc (NYSE:GSK) (LON:GSK), which employed the pair to conduct part of its internal probe into the matter.

Chinese authorities earlier alleged that GlaxoSmithKline plc (NYSE:GSK) (LON:GSK) employees Humphrey and Yu used hidden cameras for information gathering as well as accessing government records on identification numbers, identity of family members, real estate holdings, vehicle ownership, telephone logs and travel records.

Details on the trial

According to details in the summaries of the trial published online, Chinese prosecutors accused the the two of illegally obtaining more than 250 items of personal information about Chinese citizens, paying informants up to $320 per item, and then turning around and selling the information to clients. Humphrey and Yu allegedly sold the information to various multinational companies through their private investigation firm, ChinaWhys Co.

“This is serious and such behavior is against Chinese criminal law,” the prosecutor said in the indictment, according to the online summary.

Humphrey and Yu responded to the charges with over ten hours of testimony, denying that they or their firm trafficked in personal information; arguing they had employed others to obtain the data. “I never knew that using third parties to obtain information was illegal,” Ms. Yu said. per the summaries.