China sentences Houston businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis in spying case

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A Houston businesswoman who was detained in China two years ago as she accompanied city officials on a routine business trip was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on spying charges Tuesday.

The judge presiding over the closed-door trial in Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi region in southern China, said Sandy Phan-Gillis would be deported, but he didn’t specify when.


That leaves open the possibility that she could be credited with having already served more than half her sentence and removed to the United States soon, according to a person familiar with the case who declined to be identified due to its sensitive nature. But she could also be forced to complete her term.

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The Chinese Consulate in Houston didn’t immediately respond to comment. The State Department confirmed the sentencing, but said it remain concerned about her welfare.

“We are in favor of any result that allows her to return home to her family soon,” the department said in a statement.

Her possible deportation would mark an end to a saga that has threatened U.S.-China relations and puzzled those who know Phan-Gillis, a 57-year-old Vietnamese refugee of Chinese descent who spent the past three decades forging stronger partnerships with the communist country. She has lead dozens of delegations to China and endlessly hosted Chinese groups in Houston, founded the city’s Chinese New Year festival, and headed the Houston Shenzhen Sister City Association.

But to Chinese authorities, Phan-Gillis was a spy, going to a city in southern China more than two decades ago to conduct an espionage mission, according to her indictment last year. They accused her of recruiting Chinese citizens to spy for foreign agencies and spying on the communist nation herself.


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