Chinese officials stormed the Beijing office of American corporate due diligence firm Mintz Group and detained five local employees, according to the business, raising concerns among foreign corporations in China just before the country holds an international economic event.
The raid and detentions come as Sino-US relations have deteriorated after months of diplomatic tensions, including the US military downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon in February and the president of Taiwan, the self-governed island China claims as its territory, traveling to the US next week.
“We can confirm 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.”
It stated that it was willing to engage with Chinese authorities to “resolve any misunderstanding that may have led to these events,” and that its primary priority was the safety and well-being of its employees in China.
“Mintz Group has not received any official legal notice regarding a case against the company and has requested that the authorities release its employees,” the company stated.
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated that she was unaware of the situation. A request for comment was not returned by the Beijing Public Security Bureau.
A source at the New York-based firm previously told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the raid occurred on the afternoon of March 20, and that the employees were being kept incommunicado somewhere outside of Beijing.
According to the Mintz Group website, the Beijing office is the firm’s only one in China. According to the company’s website, it specializes in background checks, fact collection, and internal investigations. According to media sources, it has a diverse clientele that includes the National Football League, New York City, and The Beatles.
Mintz has 18 locations worldwide and hundreds of workers. Randal Phillips, a partner at the business who supervises its Asia operations but is situated outside of China, is identified on its website as the former main representative of the Central Intelligence Agency in China.
Phillips spent years in Beijing after leaving the CIA. There was no indication that the event was connected to him, and Reuters could not reach him for comment.
The raid and detentions came as Beijing prepares to host the three-day China Development Forum beginning Saturday, with executives from global corporations and officials from international organizations among the more than 100 abroad participants in attendance.
According to one member of the US business community, the Mintz Group episode sent a “remarkable signal” that Beijing wants foreign money and technology but will not tolerate reputable American corporations undertaking due diligence on Chinese partners or the business climate.