UPDATE 1-SolarWorld seeks probe into claims of Chinese cyber-spying

Tue Jul 1, 2014 7:11pm EDT

(Adds U.S. Commerce Department comment in last paragraph)

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG asked the Commerce Department on Tuesday to look into claims of cyber-spying by Chinese military officers as part of a trade dispute over imports of solar products from China.

The United States charged five Chinese military officers in May and accused them of hacking into American companies, among them SolarWorld's U.S. arm, to steal trade secrets.

One hacker is alleged to have stolen cost and pricing information from SolarWorld in 2012, when the company was engaged in a trade dispute over Chinese competitors selling goods in the U.S. market below their cost of production.

SolarWorld said the spying had a direct bearing on a current trade case over whether Chinese manufacturers are sidestepping the duties imposed after the 2012 dispute was decided in its favor.

"The focus of much of the alleged cyber theft was related to SolarWorld's trade remedy cases against Chinese solar manufacturers," the company said in a petition to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"All evidence suggests, therefore, that the information alleged to have been stolen has a direct bearing on the department's ongoing investigation."

SolarWorld said Commerce should ask Chinese authorities for all documents about SolarWorld's trade cases obtained by the hackers, a list of entities who received the information together with a timeline and any communication between the hackers and Chinese solar companies.

"The department is aware that SolarWorld made a filing today and will carefully review SolarWorld's submission before determining what further steps are appropriate," a Commerce official said. (Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Ken Wills, Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)