China jails US 'spy' geologist
Beijing court finds US man guilty of spying and selling state secrets on oil industry.
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2010 01:05 GMT
China's vague laws on secrecy have caused growing concern for foreign businesses [GALLO/GETTY]

A US geologist has been jailed by a Chinese court for eight years in a case that has raised concerns over China's vague secrecy laws restricting access to business information.

Xue Feng, 45, was found guilty of spying and collecting state secrets on China's oil industry, and then selling that information on to a US consultancy group.

In announcing its verdict on Monday, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court said his actions "endangered our country's national security."

Xue claimed that similar data was available in the public domain in other countries and has said he was tortured by police who stubbed lit cigarettes on his arms during interrogation after his initial arrest in 2007.

Passing sentence the court said Xue received documents on geological conditions of onshore oil wells and a database that gave the coordinates of more than 30,000 oil and gas wells belonging to China National Petroleum Corporation and its subsidiary PetroChina Ltd.

That information, it said, was sold to IHS Energy, the US consultancy Xue worked for.

Call for release

The sentence of eight years is close to the recommended legal limit of 10 years for all but extremely serious violations.

Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to China, attended the hearing to display Washington's interest in the case, but left the court without commenting after the verdict was announced.

The US embassy later issued a statement calling for Xue's immediate release and deportation to the United States.

Xue's sentence is likely to alarm foreign businesses operating in China unsure when normal business activities elsewhere might conflict with the country's vague state security laws.

Secrecy laws

Chinese officials have wide authority to classify information as state secrets, while draft laws published in April said business secrets of major state companies qualify as state secrets.

John Kamm, an American human rights campaigner who worked with the US State Department to lobby for Xue's release, said the Monday's verdict was harsh and would be unsettling for foreign firms working in China.

"It's a huge disappointment and will send very real shivers up the spines of businesses that do business in China."

In March another Chinese-born foreign national, Australian Stern Hu, an employee of global mining firm Rio Tinto, was sentenced to 10 years for bribery and infringing trade secrets that dealt with iron ore sales to Chinese companies.

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