Phan Phan-Gillis has been found guilty of stealing Chinese state secrets two decades ago, according to her lawyer, as mutual spying suspicion grows between the world’s biggest economies.

Phan Phan-Gillis, 57, more commonly known as Sandy, was sentenced at a secret trial to three and a half years in prison

Phan-Gillis was accompanying Houston officials on a routine trip to China when she was detained by authorities on suspicion of spying. She was sentenced in a secret trial in Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi region in southern China, as reported by The New York Times.

Phan-Gillis’ attorney, Shang Baojun, told the Times that the charges against his client allegedly occurred more than 20 years ago. The judge ordered that Phan-Gillis be deported from China, but did not stipulate if she would be forced to serve her entire sentence.

“A court can order expulsion from the country for foreign nationals either after serving a sentence or concurrent with a sentence starting, but the judge wasn’t clear on which applied here, so I also have to wait to read the verdict,” Shang told the Times via telephone. “Of course, I hope that they’ll deport her as soon as possible, but we have to wait until we see the written verdict to be sure.”

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Phan-Gillis had led many delegations to China and founded Houston’s Chinese New Year festival. She was born in Vietnam into an ethnic Chinese family, and settled in the U.S. after fleeing Vietnam by boat. She has worked as a consultant to Houston firms seeking to do business in China, and has represented Chinese companies doing business in Texas.

According to the Times, calls to the Nanning Intermediate People’s Court were not answered, and Phan-Gillis’ trial was not covered in Chinese media. In addition, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not responds to questions from the Times about her case.

Phan-Gillis was detained in March 2015 near a border crossing, and Chinese officials said that, in addition to spying, she had tried to recruit Chinese people living in the U.S. to work for a “foreign spy organization.”

Phan-Gillis at first denied the allegations, but during her trial pleaded guilty to the charges, Shang, her attorney, said.

“After the verdict was read out, the chief judge didn’t ask her whether she’d appeal,” Mr. Shang said. “But when I met her yesterday and previously and asked her, she said she wouldn’t appeal, as long as she could leave China as soon as possible.”


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