The husband of a US businesswoman accused of spying in China says she was secretly held in the country for six months before authorities pressed charges on Sunday. Jeff Gillis says Phan Phan-Gillis, who goes by Sandy, was one of five Houston officials and businesspeople taking part in a trade delegation when she was detained in the southern city of Zhuhai on March 20, reports the New York Times. A member of the delegation tells the Wall Street Journal she was seized during immigration checks while attempting to cross into Macau. He adds he later received a text from Phan-Gillis saying she was extending her stay in China to deal with a personal matter, per the Houston Chronicle. Her husband only learned she had been detained when he called the US Consulate in China 11 days later. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Phan-Gillis, 55, was investigated for "activities harmful to Chinese national security."
A Houston attorney helping the couple says Phan-Gillis' lawyers in China were told she was accused of stealing state secrets—a claim her husband denies. "My wife isn't a spy or a thief," he says. "She is a hardworking businesswoman who spends huge amounts of time on nonprofit activities in Houston and China." Gillis says his wife, who has now been moved to a detention center in Nanning, visits China several times a year as president of the Houston Shenzhen Sister City Association and is involved in training Chinese nurses. While American consular officers in Guangzhou have visited Phan-Gillis on a monthly basis, Gillis says he hopes senior officials will press Chinese President Xi Jinping for her release as he visits the US this week. "I really don't want to be disruptive," Gillis, 53, says. "I just want to get my wife back." A State Department rep tells the Times "we continue to monitor her case closely." (Read more China stories.)