July 5, 2010 / 2:37 PM / 9 years ago

China convicts U.S. geologist of stealing state secrets

BEIJING (Reuters) - A geologist accused of stealing state secrets after he brokered the sale of an oil database has been sentenced to eight years in jail, the U.S. embassy said on Monday, over two-and-one-half years after he was detained.

Geologist Xue Feng, a 44-year-old U.S. citizen born in China, was detained late in 2007 after negotiating the sale of an oil industry database to his employer at the time, Colorado-based consultancy IHS Energy, now known as IHS Inc.

Xue was convicted of attempting to obtain and traffic in state secrets, a year after his trial ended, said the Duihua Foundation, which advocates for prisoners’ rights in China and the United States. The database was classified as a state secret only after it was sold, it added.

“We are dismayed by Dr. Xue’s eight-year sentence and 200,000 yuan ($29,540) fine. We remain concerned about his rights to due process under Chinese law,” U.S. embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said in an email. China’s notoriously vague state secrets laws received international attention last year, when Australian citizen Stern Hu and three colleagues working for mining giant Rio Tinto were detained for stealing state secrets during the course of tense iron ore negotiations.

The four were later convicted of the lesser charges of receiving kickbacks and stealing commercial secrets. The verdict of at least two senior Chinese steel officials accused of leaking the secrets has never been revealed, more than three months after they were convicted in a closed trial by a Shanghai court.

Xue’s case only became public two years after he was detained. He was burned with cigarettes while in detention, Jerome Cohen, a legal expert advising Xue’s family, has said.

“Obviously the sentence seems very harsh, especially when the evidence was so weak that the prosecutor had to return the case to the police twice and the court had to return the case to the prosecutor twice and then take almost a year after the trial to render its decision,” Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law, wrote in an email.

Xue’s sentence was not listed among the public rulings of the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court. Phone calls to the court were not immediately answered at midday on Monday.

“I have visited Xue Feng several times during the past half year. He has stayed strong during this difficult time. My thoughts are with him and his family, with whom I hope he will be reunited soon,” U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who attended Monday’s sentencing, said in a statement.

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