Chinese authorities have formally indicted two corporate investigators, a Briton and an American, for allegedly illegally obtaining and selling private information.
The official Xinhua News Agency said it is the first time foreigners have faced such charges in China.
It said prosecutors in Shanghai filed charges against British investigator Peter Humphrey and his wife Yu Yingzeng, a US citizen, at the city’s No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court.
The move paves the way for the couple to stand trial.
The couple’s arrest last year coincided with a Chinese investigation of accusations British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline paid bribes to doctors and officials to use its medications.
Glaxo said it hired the couple last year to investigate a security breach involving a senior manager.
The indictment received prominent coverage in China. Reports by state broadcaster CCTV showed Humphrey and his wife being separately interviewed by Chinese reporters.
In CCTV’s footage, they were shown seated and wearing orange vests that are typical uniforms of detainees, as they spoke to reporters.
According to Xinhua, the couple are accused of illegally selling a “huge amount” of personal information on Chinese citizens, including home addresses, information about family members, details about real estate and vehicles and records of travellers entering and leaving the country.
The investigators are accused of obtaining such information by illegally buying it from others as well as with hidden cameras or by following people, Xinhua said.
Yu and Humphrey would compile the information gathered on the subjects of their investigations and sell the reports to clients that were mainly multinational companies based in China such as GSK China, the report said.
In Chinese media reports, Humphrey said he had been contacted in April last year by GSK’s then-China manager, Mark Reilly, who wanted him to find out who leaked allegations of bribery at the firm to Chinese authorities and senior executives at the firm.
Mr Reilly, who is British, is at the centre of a major investigation into corruption in China’s medical industry.
In May, he was accused of leading a scheme to bribe doctors and hospitals to use GSK’s drugs. Mr Reilly’s case has been turned over to prosecutors.
Humphrey said on state television that he found out during his investigation the bribery claims were true and if he had known that earlier he would not have carried out the probe.
He said he felt “betrayed and used” by the pharmaceutical firm.
Executives at GSK did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.