British businessman in his seventies jailed in China for 'being a spy' after vanishing six years ago

26 January 2024, 14:56

Ian J Stones is being held in Beijing
Ian J Stones is being held in Beijing. Picture: Facebook/Getty

By Kit Heren

A British businessman in his seventies has been sent to prison in China after being convicted of spying, having disappeared six years ago.

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Ian J Stones, who is believed to be about 70, has lived in China for over 45 years, working for Pfizer and General Motors, before launching his own consulting firm, Navisino Partners. He vanished in 2018.

Now it has emerged that Stones was jailed for five years in 2022 after being convicted of "illegally obtaining intelligence for overseas actors".

The verdict was upheld in September after an appeal, according to Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson.

Stones has not admitted to the spying charge, his daughter Laura Stones said - but "has stoically accepted and respects that under Chinese law he must serve out the remainder of his sentence."

Neither Stones' family nor officials from the British embassy have been able to look at the legal documents relating to his case, she said.

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Ms Stones added that her father had entered prison in good health - but that he had not been well fed, and has since developed health complications.

British embassy staff have been visiting Mr Stones every four-six weeks during his prison stay, but there was a six-month spell when they weren't allowed to see him. This led to fears that he might have died.

She said: "We hope it is not too late to help recover his health, and pray that the Chinese authorities will continue to do what they can to care for my father until he is able to return home."

A friend who sent Mr Stones books was told by someone in the Foreign Office that the businessman had been sent to Beijing No 2, a prison for foreign inmates, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Wang, the Chinese official, said the "court tried the case strictly in accordance with the law", adding that "China is a country governed by the rule of law".

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He said that Stone was accused of "being bribed into providing intelligence by external forces".

The spokesperson said: "The judicial organs strictly promote the handling of cases in accordance with the law, safeguarding the rights and legitimate interests of both Chinese nationals and foreigners."

Wang said that British officials were allowed to visit Stones in prison, and were able to attend his sentencing. His daughter said one family member was allowed to go to with embassy staff to one legal hearing.

Stones moved to China in 1978, after earning a postgraduate diploma in Chinese from a London college. He later achieved a further degree in Chinese from a university in Beijing.

Over a long career in China, he worked for a business research group called the Conference Board, which worked with the Chinese government and central bank, as well as his posts with Pfizer and General Motors.

The news comes after a researcher for Conservative MPs in the UK was arrested on suspicion of spying for the Chinese government in March. He denies the allegation.