In China, a repressive campaign against audit firms worries foreign companies


In this image taken from an undated CCTV video, Chinese police carry out law enforcement operations during a raid on Capvision's offices in Shanghai.

Police officers in navy blue uniforms rush into their cars and drive off in unison in a ballet of flashing lights. The target of this cleverly staged police raid: Capvision, a Sino-American company specializing in connecting companies seeking information with experts from different sectors. According to the fifteen-minute report broadcast on national television CCTV on Monday May 8, just after the evening news, the company is accused of having “exposed sensitive internal information, state secrets and intelligence (information) ». This investigation follows police raids on the Chinese premises of two American companies in March and early April: Bain & Company, an international strategy consulting firm headquartered in Boston, and Mintz, a Canadian-based firm specializing in in audits. These events worry consultants, and more generally foreign companies in China.

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Because the message sent by the CCTV report is clear: to reign fear both in consulting firms, but especially among Chinese citizens who expose themselves to prosecution if they reveal too much information to foreign entities. . Against the backdrop of tensions with the United States, and while activity is struggling to pick up again after three years of zero Covid policy, any information on the real state of the economy is considered sensitive. “This measure aims to promote healthy development of the sector and safeguard national security”, justified, on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, referring to the company’s access to “state secrets”. This campaign coincides with the announcement of the strengthening of a law against espionage, which will be applied from 1er July. The text extends the scope of the law to any activity relating to the “security and national interests”a particularly broad concept.

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Sensitive sectors

Among consultants, there are many areas of concern “I immediately thought of industrial espionage: we have a lot of information on our European customers, confides a French consultant, who himself has already received a visit from the police. Recently, several security managers of large Western companies have been concerned about how their data is stored., he adds. Duncan Clark, head of consulting firm BDA China since 1994, confirms: “The business climate is increasingly paranoid. » The main grievance of economic players: the lack of clear rules. “The lines are constantly changing: previously, investigating people was risky, just as selling personal information may be considered illegal in other countries. But today, it is much broader: even more traditional activities such as research on customers, suppliers of a company, can be exposed »continues Mr. Clark.

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