The private investigator hired by GlaxoSmithKline to investigate a smear campaign in China  and who was subsequently arrested, feels he has been let down by the company and says he believes bribery allegations against the drugs giant are believable.

In a note dictated from prison and seen and reported by the Financial Times, Peter Humphrey has slammed GSK for what he believes was a failure to reveal the extent of corruption allegations against the company. He was hired in April 2013 to investigate Vivian Shi, formerly GSK’s head of government affairs in China, who was suspected of sending e-mails sent to senior executives in London and a secretly filmed sex tape involving GSK China chief Mark Reilly.

In his note, Mr Humphrey said he was assured that GSK had made its own inquiries into the corruption allegations and that they were “not true”. However, he added that “only after we completed our background investigation on the whistleblower did they reveal the details to us. I realised we had been cheated because the allegations looked real to us”.

However, the FT cites people close to the case as insisting that Mr Humphrey had been well briefed on the corruption allegations. GSK itself notes that it hired Mr Humphrey’s company ChinaWhys (run with his wife and business partner Yu Yingzeng who has also been arrested) following a “serious breach of privacy and security related to the company’s China general manager. They were not hired to investigate the substance of the allegations of misconduct made by the whistleblower”.

Investigations into the allegations made in early 2013 about GSK’s business in China were conducted over several months “with the support of external legal and audit advice”, the company notes. While some fraudulent behaviour relating to expense claims was identified, resulting in employee dismissals and “further changes to our monitoring procedures”, the investigation “did not find evidence to substantiate the specific allegations made in the whistleblower emails”.

Independent review

GSK went on to say that the China business is now subject to an ongoing investigation by local authorities “with which we are fully cooperating. We have also hired an external law firm, Ropes and Gray, to conduct an independent review into what happened in our China business during this period”.

The company concluded by noting that “we have zero tolerance for any kind of corruption in our business and we have many policies, procedures and controls in place to monitor this and take action against any breaches. As we have said previously, the allegations that have been raised are deeply concerning to us. We are learning lessons from this situation and we are determined to take all actions necessary as a result”.

Meantime Mr Humphreys and his wife will go on trial on August 7 and concerns have been raised by the US Embassy which has been told it will not be allowed to attend; Ms Yu is a US citizen.