A British businessman who disappeared from public view in China in 2018 was sentenced to five years in prison in 2022, China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday in the first public acknowledgment of the case.
Businessman, Ian J. The Stones had been living in China since the 1970s and working for companies such as General Motors and Pfizer. For many years after his disappearance, there was no public information about his whereabouts, although some in the business community privately discussed his secret detention.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Said Mr Stones was convicted in 2022 of “procuring and illegally supplying intelligence to an organization or individual outside China”. Mr Stones’ appeal of the verdict was rejected in September 2023, spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
Mr Wang was answering questions from reporters at a regularly scheduled press conference after The Wall Street Journal informed of Mr Stones’ case on Thursday.
“Chinese courts heard the case in strict accordance with the law,” Mr Wang said. He said China “safeguards the legitimate rights of Chinese and foreign parties.”
It is unclear when Mr. Stones will be released and whether he will be given credit for time served before his conviction.
Mr. Stones’ daughter, Laura Stones, did not respond to a request for comment. But he told The Wall Street Journal that Chinese authorities had not given him or British embassy staff access to legal documents in the case, nor allowed them to attend the trial.
The revelation is likely to deepen concerns among foreign companies about the risks of operating in China in an increasingly insular political environment led by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the country’s powerful security agencies.
China revised its already broad anti-espionage law last year to expand the definition of espionage and has repeatedly warned in recent months about the dangers of interacting with foreigners. Last year too, authorities raided the offices of several American companies and detained some Chinese employees.
Foreign governments have at times accused China of arresting foreigners as political pawns, as was the case with Canada arresting two Canadians in 2018 after detaining a prominent Chinese technology executive. An Australian businessman and author, yang hengjun, still detained in China, and Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist, were released in October. Both were charged with unrelated national security crimes and have denied wrongdoing.
There are no official numbers on the number of foreigners detained in China. Information about the charges against them is generally extremely limited. While governments or relatives of detained foreigners sometimes speak out about their cases, some remain silent, possibly in hopes of backroom negotiations with Beijing.
Mr Stones, who is almost 70, had worked as a senior manager for General Motors Asia, helping it expand into China in the 1990s, and as manager in China for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Had worked in. At the time of his detention, he had been working as a consultant advising investors on deals, regulations and disputes in China for more than a decade, according to his LinkedIn page, which is no longer available online.
Because of his decades of experience in the country and his proficiency in the Chinese language, he was well known among Western investors and officials in Beijing. On LinkedIn, Mr. Stones said Navisino Partners, a consulting firm where he was a partner, specializes in “finding solutions to tough challenges, structuring deals, work-outs, turnarounds.”
He also had ties to Chinese government agencies; According to an annual report he submitted to the National Bureau of Statistics of China report in 2007 by The Conference Board, a New York-based business research group where he was a senior advisor.
The circumstances surrounding Mr Stones’ arrest remain opaque, and it is unknown what communication took place between the British and Chinese governments. Britain’s Foreign Office declined to comment.
Mr. Stones’s detention coincides with a period in which the British government has taken a tough stance on China, often taking positions critical of the United States. In 2020, it banned Chinese telecommunications equipment company Huawei from joining Britain’s new high-speed wireless network, a decision condemned by Beijing.
London’s relations with Beijing have also deteriorated over China’s continued repression of civil rights in the former British colony of Hong Kong. Britain has also criticized China over its repression of Muslims in the Xinjiang region, military pressure on Taiwan and its continued partnership with Russia despite the war in Ukraine.