Charges against three Chinese nationals involved in two separate instances of attempted U.S. corporate seed-technology theft were announced in mid-December. U.S. attorney generals apparently took their time in filing charges. The American Seed Trade Association issued a statement praising the government for seeing the technology theft attempts as serious.
“We are extremely pleased to see that the matter at hand is being taken seriously by the U.S. government. The swift action sends the message that no matter the nationality, either domestic or international, this practice is unacceptable,” the ASTA statement noted.
After a two-year investigation, an executive working for a Chinese conglomerate was arrested on charges of stealing inbred corn seed from production fields in Iowa and Illinois and trying to smuggle it into China, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa Nicholas Klinefeld was quoted as announcing by Carey Gillam for Reuters news service.
Reportedly, FBI agents tracked Mo Hailong, director of the international business of the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., by using GPS surveillance and listening devices planted in cars that he and other unnamed conspirators drove on rural roads.
Gillam noted the others involved in the court case, not identified as Chinese, included employees at U.S. seed companies who provided locations where experiments with genetically altered seeds took place or provided gene sequencing information for the bio-engineered seeds, according to court documents. Additional papers at the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Iowa, indicate the thefts took place between September 2011 and October 2012.
Both DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto said they have cooperated with federal authorities in the ongoing probe.
Information released reported that Mo was discovered in an Iowa farm field Pioneer used to test corn seed products the company planned to bring to market, and police were called another time when Mo and two accomplices were discovered in a Monsanto test seed field.
“Investigators found ears of corn stashed in an Illinois self-storage unit, dozens of bags of corn kernels stuffed under the seat of a car and hundreds of pictures of corn fields and production facilities,” Gillam reported.
SEPARATE KANSAS CASE
In another case, two agricultural scientists from China were charged with trying to steal samples of a variety of seeds from a Kansas biopharmaceutical company’s research facility, which was not immediately identified.
Zhang Weiqiang, 47, of Manhattan, Kan., and Yan Wengui, 63, of Stuttgart, Ark., were charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Barry Grissom.
Grissom’s office explained that the U.S. company patented technology used to create seeds containing recombinant proteins and “has an extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100 issued and pending patents and exclusive licenses to issue patents.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China who were about to return home on Aug. 7 of this year, according to papers filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas,” Gillam reported.
The group had visited various agricultural facilities and universities in the Midwest, as well as the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark.
According to the complaint, Zhang and Yan, both citizens of the People’s Republic of China, had arranged for the Chinese delegation to visit the U.S. last summer and gave them the stolen seeds that were ultimately intercepted.
Grissom’s office filed charges that carry a penalty of a maximum 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
No comments by the defendants had been issued at press time.