By Megha Rajagopalan
BEIJING (Reuters) - China has accused two risk consultants, a British man and his American wife, of illegally buying and selling private information, state media reported on Tuesday, amid a nationwide probe into the drugs industry.
The Briton, Peter Humphrey, and his American wife, Yu Yingzeng, were detained in Shanghai on July 10 as police investigated bribery accusations against British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
A police investigator in Shanghai, Lu Wei, said on state-run CCTV the couple "wantonly" obtained a lot of information on home registrations, international travel, and property records.
They sold the information to lawyers, multinational companies and financial institutions, CCTV said.
Humphrey said in a statement broadcast on CCTV that he had occasionally used illegal methods.
"I sometimes used illegal means to obtain personal information," Humphrey said in Mandarin to a camera as he sat handcuffed wearing an orange vest.
"I very much regret this and apologize to the Chinese government," said Humphrey, who once worked as a journalist for Reuters.
ChinaWhys, the investigative risk consultancy Humphrey and Yu founded, worked for many firms including GSK, separate sources familiar with the matter have said.
Chinese police have been investigating bribery accusations against GSK since July, though Chinese media reports on Humphrey and Yu made no mention of the firm.
"We were concerned to see that Peter Humphrey was interviewed about the details of a case which is currently under investigation and has yet to come to trial," Britain's foreign office said in a statement. "We are continuing to provide consular assistance to Mr Humphrey and his family."
The American embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jason Cai, a Chinese investigator who worked with Humphrey and Yu, was arrested around the same time, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter. Cai was not mentioned in the state media reports, and his arrest has not been announced.
Shanghai police did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
The ChinaWhys website says Humphrey has worked as a risk management specialist and corporate detective for 14 years.
Cai Hua, a Chinese criminal lawyer, said it was difficult to say how heavy the penalty would be if the couple is convicted.
"For the most part, it rests on the extent of the damage the crime has done and the amount of information obtained," said Cai, who is not related to Jason Cai.
The couple "confessed to the crime without concealing anything," the state-controlled Xinhua news agency reported. " actions seriously violated the personal privacy of Chinese citizens."
"Whether it's a Chinese person or foreigner engaging in illegal activities, public security organs will firmly crack down without holding back," the news agency said.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Harney and the Newsroom in Shanghai, Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Editing by Robert Birsel)