Peter Humphrey’s wife was having coffee in their Shanghai apartment late one night in August 2013, and he was in the ensuite bathroom, when he heard a loud hammering on the bedroom door.
- 14 Crown Resorts’ staff were detained in China in October
- Peter Humphrey faced traumatic interrogations in Chinese detention for weeks
- Mr Humphrey says detained staff were in poor psychological condition
He thought his wife, Yu Yingzeng, was joking when she called out: “Open, it’s the police.”
Then the bedroom door flew off its hinges and hit him. Suddenly in the adjoining bedroom there were men with cameras and spotlights, holding up a document.
Mr Humphrey’s wife was taken to one room, he to another. It was the last time he would see his wife for two years.
As a British national who has spent time in a Chinese detention centre and then jail, Mr Humphrey has a rare insight into what the 14 Crown Resorts’ staff detained in China last October are going through.
Fifteen staff, including three Australians, were detained under suspicion of “gambling crimes”. One has been released on bail.
Gambling and the promotion of gambling is illegal in mainland China. Foreign casinos in the past understood they could promote their luxury resorts, which are attached to the casinos.
In Monday night’s Four Corners, Crown Confidential, Mr Humphrey detailed his experience and his plunge into despair during his two years behind bars. He also offered advice to the families on what to expect.
As corporate investigators, he and his wife had been hired by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to investigate an employee.
But they soon found themselves swept up in a major corruption investigation of GSK by the Chinese authorities, which they themselves were not involved with in any way.
The employee was a whistleblower and Mr Humphrey and his wife were charged with buying and selling personal information.
They were convicted in a Shanghai court in 2014. In all, they spent two years in detention and prison.
Interrogation and confession
Mr Humphrey graphically described his experience of interrogation in the detention centre to Four Corners.
“It was an absolutely traumatic experience and I’m sad to say that these Australians and Chinese who were working for Crown casinos will have most certainly gone through that kind of experience,” he said.
“Many of them would have been thrown into a cell like that in the middle of the night just like I was.
“They always do this in the middle of the night because it maximises the sort of crushing feeling that this prisoner now has … so that when they start getting interrogated again the following day, they’re in a state of breakdown already.”
After being detained and checked into the centre, Mr Humphrey was taken to a cell. By then it was 3:00am or later.
“What I saw was iron bars at each end of the room and a sea of pink on this wooden floor and the pink was quilts — very cheap quality Chinese quilts — and then heads started sticking out from under these quilts,” he recalls.
“I was in a state of shock at that moment in time and I was in a state of shock for many weeks.”
Mr Humphrey also detailed what the Crown workers would likely face.
“They’ll be led out of their cell, put in handcuffs, they’re forced to squat [in front of officers] when they exit the cell,” he said.
“They’ll be led down a corridor and across a rusty sort of iron bridge which connects two wings of the building into the interrogation block, and in that block are the interrogation cells.”
A typical interrogation cell has a small rostrum at one side of the room and a metal cage made of steel in the middle, Mr Humphrey said.
“Inside the cage is an iron chair with a bar that locks across your lap,” he said.
“There’ll be two or three policemen, PSB [public security bureau] men, up on that rostrum — one of them will be typing on a laptop, another may be receiving guidance and instructions through an earpiece from someone who you never see.
“So they’ll be questioned in that style: locked in a cage, guys up on the rostrum, no lawyer present.”
Mr Humphrey said while there was a right to an independent lawyer later in the process, under Chinese law, he was interrogated for several weeks before he got a chance to see a lawyer.
He claims he was misled into giving an interview which was distorted and used at his trial as a confession.
Support on the inside
Mr Humphrey has advice for the family of Jason O’Connor, the head of Crown’s VIP marketing, who is the most senior of the detainees.
“I understand that his family must be worried like hell and unfortunately, you know, I can’t say anything good about what Jason’s psychological condition might be like right now,” he said.
“I would say to the family first of all, make sure you know his needs in terms of clothing and so on, money sent into his prison account so that he can buy his necessities from the prison shopping system.
“Reading material. As he’s a foreign citizen the Consul can bring reading materials to him and that’s very important so bring him books, bring him newspapers, bring him magazines and so on.
“Send him some photographs of the family. Let him see how the family are as well.”
Most of the gambling experts Four Corners interviewed for the program were not optimistic about the Crown staff being released in the near future.
Apart from the one Chinese staff member, Jiang Liang, who was released on bail, 14 are still in detention. The Australian Government confirmed they had been formally arrested in November. If they are not released, the next step will be formal charges.
China has a very high conviction rate. Mr Humphrey is deeply pessimistic about the fate of the Crown staff.
“When people are arrested in China, 99.9 per cent of these cases nobody gets out, nobody gets out. They will be charged, they will be convicted,” he told the program.