London, October 24: WPP, the British multinational advertising giant, announced that it has terminated the employment of its China executives in the advertising procurement department who are currently detained in China on suspicion of bribery. The company has also initiated an internal investigation into the matter.
The Economic Crime Investigation Division of the Shanghai Police disclosed on October 21 that three individuals from an undisclosed advertising company were detained on suspicion of bribery. Subsequent reports revealed that the police statement referred to one current employee and two former employees of GroupM, an advertising procurement department under WPP in China.
The executive who was still employed by WPP when detained was identified as Di Fei. The other two executives had already left GroupM before Chinese authorities conducted a raid on its Shanghai offices earlier this month.
WPP has refrained from providing detailed comments on the active police investigation.
This development comes in the wake of the formal arrest on October 19 of a Japanese businessman in his 50s, who had been detained by Chinese authorities since March, on charges of espionage. He had been working for the Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma in China. The Japanese government, through Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, has been urging China for the immediate release of the detained individual.
Amid its current economic challenges, China has become increasingly dependent on foreign production orders, technology, management, and funds. As a result, it has relaxed certain restrictions on foreign investment in the manufacturing sector. However, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping has maintained a strong emphasis on political security.
The CCP recently revised its Anti-Espionage Law, expanding its focus on foreign nationals, foreign businesses operating in China, and Chinese individuals with overseas connections. This revised law came into effect on July 1, 2023.
Throughout this year, there have been multiple incidents involving raids on the offices of foreign companies in China and arrests of foreign company employees. These actions have raised concerns and, in some cases, deterred foreign business executives from traveling to China for business purposes.