Chinese authorities raid the American due diligence company Mintz

Chinese authorities raided the Beijing offices of US due diligence firm Mintz Group, detained five local employees and shut down its Chinese operations, the company said in a statement.

The raid, which took place on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter, comes as the Chinese government prepares to welcome a number of international CEOs to its annual investor conference this weekend, including Apple’s Tim Cook and HSBC’s Noel Quinn.

“Mintz Group has not received formal legal notice regarding the case against the company and has asked the authorities to release its employees,” the company said.

Mintz said in a statement that he has retained legal counsel to liaise with authorities and support staff and their families.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Randal Phillips, who heads the Mintz Group’s Asian operations, is on the list group website as the former top representative of the Central Intelligence Agency in China. Phillips is not based in China and it is unclear if the Beijing raid is connected to it.

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The raid follows a deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing, which worsened last month following a dispute over a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States.

The US Congress this week also blasted the CEO of Chinese-owned short video app TikTok over his ties to Beijing, amid a growing bipartisan effort to ban apps that pose security threats.

China strongly opposes the forced sale of TikTok.

Mintz said it is “licensed to conduct legitimate business in China, where we have always operated transparently, ethically and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

The company said it was ready to work with Chinese authorities to resolve any misunderstandings that may have led to the raid. “In the meantime, we will continue to support our customers in Asia through other offices in the region,” the company said.

A former Mintz employee said he noticed official attitudes toward the company hardened during the outbreak, when China mostly closed its borders and implemented strict zero-Covid controls.

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“You don’t know where the red line is,” said the staffer, whose job was mainly to translate Chinese press reports.

China has previously detained investigators, analysts and journalists associated with foreign companies. In 2018, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians – Michael Spavor, an expert on North Korea, and Michael Kovrig, a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group research organization.

The arrests followed the Canadian arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecommunications equipment maker Huawei, in an extradition case. All three were eventually released.

Beijing launched a charm offensive this month to lure back foreign investors after economic growth slowed last year amid tight pandemic controls and heightened tensions with the United States.

In addition to this weekend’s China Development Forum, which will be attended by international figures including Henry Kissinger, Beijing is inviting international investors to next week’s annual International Asia Boao Forum in southern Hainan province.

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Additional reporting by Ryan McMorrow in Beijing, Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong and Edward White in Seoul