China sentences US Citizen and Houston based businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis in spying case

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April 25, 2017

A Houston businesswoman who was detained in China two years ago as she accompanied city officials on a routine business trip was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on spying charges Tuesday.

April 25, 2017

A Houston businesswoman who was detained in China two years ago as she accompanied city officials on a routine business trip was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on spying charges Tuesday.

Sandy Phan-Gillis, a Houston businesswoman who was detained in China two years ago as she accompanied city officials on a routine business trip, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on spying charges Tuesday.

The judge presiding over the closed-door trial in Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi region in southern China, said Sandy Phan-Gillis would be deported, but he didn't specify when.

That leaves open the possibility that she could be credited with having already served more than half her sentence and removed to the United States soon, according to a person familiar with the case who declined to be identified due to its sensitive nature. But she could also be forced to complete her term.

The Chinese Consulate in Houston didn't immediately respond to comment. The State Department confirmed the sentencing, but said it remained concerned about her welfare.

"We are in favor of any result that allows her to return home to her family soon," the department said in a statement.

Her possible deportation would mark an end to a saga that has threatened U.S.-China relations and puzzled those who know Phan-Gillis, a 57-year-old Vietnamese refugee of Chinese descent who spent the past three decades forging stronger partnerships with the communist country. She has lead dozens of delegations to China and hosted Chinese groups in Houston, founded the city's Chinese New Year festival, and headed the Houston Shenzhen Sister City Association.

But to Chinese authorities, Phan-Gillis was a spy, going to a city in southern China in 1996 to conduct an espionage mission, according to her indictment last year. They accused her of recruiting Chinese citizens to spy for foreign agencies and spying on the communist nation herself.

Little more information has been disclosed over her charges, as lawyers in China are forbidden to publicly discuss national security cases without approval.

Phan-Gillis' husband, Jeff Gillis, has repeatedly maintained her innocence and called improving relations with China her "life's work." He declined to comment Tuesday.

But he has previously said that his wife's passport shows that she did not visit China at all in 1996.

He has also said that she told him that her arrest was related to people she knew two decades ago who were from the province of Guangxi but whom "she knew in the United States, not in China."

She told him that, according to Chinese authorities, these acquaintances "have been violating their law, and the law is catching up to them," he said last year.

At one point, Phan-Gillis told her lawyers that she felt forced to admit to the espionage mission but that the confession was "faked" because she was threatened with life imprisonment during daily interrogations.

American experts in such cases and those who knew Phan-Gillis in Houston were confounded about what could have raised Beijing's ire. Some in Congress even suggested issuing a travel advisory for China warning about the possible risks.

Her case raised questions about the safety of Americans doing business in China under the presidency of Xi Jinping, who has arrested at least nine foreigners on allegations of spying in the past two years and oversaw the passage of a sweeping national security law in 2015 that grants authorities broad discretion about what constitutes espionage.

It was approved as Chinese authorities have increasingly blamed "foreign forces" for protests in Hong Kong and elsewhere.


Courtesy: chron