By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY Mo. Dec 12 Three Chinese nationals
- including one who attended a gala dinner for the then-vice
president of China - have been charged in two separate cases of
trying to steal seed-technology, trade secrets under development
in the United States, authorities said on Thursday.
After a two-year investigation, a 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 Klinefeldt said.
FBI agents tracked Mo Hailong, director of the international
business of the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co, a part of
DBN Group, using GPS surveillance and planted listening devices
in cars that he and other unnamed conspirators drove on rural
roads, court papers said.
The others included employees at U.S. seed companies who
provided locations where experiments with genetically altered
seeds took place; or they provided gene sequencing information
for the bio-engineered seeds, according to documents filed in
U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Iowa.
The thefts took place between September 2011 and October
2012, according to papers at the U.S. Court for the Southern
District of Iowa.
Both Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer, the agricultural unit of
DuPont, and Missouri-based Monsanto, two of the
world's largest agricultural seed companies, said they were
cooperating with federal authorities in the ongoing probe.
Mo was discovered in an Iowa farm field Pioneer used to test
corn seed products the company planned to bring to market,
court documents said. Later, police were called when Mo and two
others 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, court documents state.
In February 2012, Mo was tracked to Des Moines where he
attended the state dinner hosted by Iowa for then-Chinese vice
president Xi Jinping, who is now China's president.
In the second case, two agricultural scientists from China
were charged with trying to steal samples of a variety of seeds
from a biopharmaceutical company's research facility in Kansas.
Zhang Weiqiang, 47, of Manhattan, Kansas, and Yan Wengui,
63, of Stuttgart, Arkansas, 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 declined to name the company, which had
invested about $75 million in patented technology used to create
seeds containing recombinant proteins, except to say it "has an
extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100
issued and pending patents and exclusive licenses to issue
Grissom's spokesman, Jim Cross, said the two cases were
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, according to papers filed in the U.S.
District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.
The group had visited various agricultural facilities and
universities in the Midwest, as well as the Dale Bumpers
National Rice Research Center in Stuggart, 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 United States last summer and gave them
the stolen seeds.
If convicted, Zhang and Yan face a maximum penalty of 10
years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
None of the three men nor lawyers for them could be reached