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China Raids Beijing Office of US Investigations Firm
Mintz Group targeted in March 20 incursion. Chinese employees held.
The Beijing office of a prominent American corporate investigations firm has been raided by Chinese authorities.
Mintz Group, a global firm led by fraud and corruption specialists who came from journalism, law firms, computers and banking, has confirmed that its office was raided on the afternoon of March 20. A source told Reuters, which first reported on the action, that its Beijing office was “raided by authorities and five Chinese staff were detained.”
A source told SpyTalk that “they got an expat out ahead of time,” but “it’s a big mess and problems for local employees.”
Firm founder Jim Mintz did not respond to telephone and email inquiries from SpyTalk. But in a later statement to Reuters, the company confirmed that “Chinese authorities have detained the five staff in Mintz Group’s Beijing office, all of them Chinese nationals, and have closed our operations there."
Reuters said it had been told “that the employees were being held incommunicado somewhere outside of Beijing.” All the employees are Chinese citizens, it said.
The news agency further reported that “the company was not aware of the reasons for the raid and had not had contact with authorities, but was assessing the potential for data breaches and was alerting clients.”
Mintz Group’s confidential files are likely to be very valuable to Chinese authorities or officials. It has 18 offices around the world and hundreds of employees.
A significant portion of Mintz Group’s work involves background investigations and so-called “due diligence” probes, in which it’s contracted to do a comprehensive look at the finances and management of a rival or a company that it may want to acquire or damage.
That could easily get them in trouble in China, where corruption involving high officials is rampant. It doesn’t help that the leadership of the Mintz Group and other such firms typically include former CIA officers.
"Given the nature of their work in investigations and background searches, it's quite easy to see how China could accuse them of espionage," says Nicholas Eftimiades, a former Defense Department and CIA official and author of Chinese Intelligence Operations.
“Western due diligence companies have gotten into trouble with Chinese authorities before,” Reuters reported. “British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey and his American wife Yu Yingzeng, who ran risk consultancy ChinaWhys, were detained in 2013 following work they did for British pharmaceuticals giant GSK.”
Ready for Raids
Foreign firms in China have long been training for security agency raids, says Matthew Brazil, a former Beijing-based U.S. Commerce Department official and businessman.
“I've given some of this training myself while in the corporate world,” said Brazil, a SpyTalk contributing editor and co-author of Chinese Communist Espionage: A Intelligence Primer.
The Mintz raid was likely carried out by China’s State Administration of Industry and Commerce, he said. “But of course, who knows?”
“China lawyers tell people to call the company's attorneys, never try to hide anything,” he said, “don't shred documents or appear evasive.”
“Such dawn raids slowed down during COVID but with the controls being lifted, people are now going back to the office,” Brazil added. “Therefore such dawn raids are again potentially fruitful.
“It may or not be a coincidence,” he added, “that this happened roughly at the same time that the TikTok CEO, Shou Chew, was being questioned in a hostile manner on Capitol Hill. The timing of the raid was also “curious,” a Mintz Group source told SpyTalk, “coming on the eve of” the opening of the China Development Forum, an annual Beijing gathering of Chinese officials, representatives of foreign multinational firms, and academics. This year’s theme, the CDF said on its website, is “Economic Recovery: Opportunities and Cooperation.”
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