Chinese ex-Monsanto staffer charged in US with stealing secrets

US Justice Department says case is another example of intellectual property theft by China, as trade war continues.

    Monsanto, a formerly US corporation specialising in agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology, was acquired by Bayer AG in 2018 as part of the German firm's crop science division [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]
    Monsanto, a formerly US corporation specialising in agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology, was acquired by Bayer AG in 2018 as part of the German firm's crop science division [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

    A Chinese national who worked for US agricultural technology firm Monsanto has been charged in St Louis, Missouri, with stealing trade secrets for China, the US Justice Department said.

    Haitao Xiang, 42, an employee of Monsanto and its Climate Corp subsidiary from 2008 to 2017, was stopped by federal officials at a US airport before he could board a flight to China carrying proprietary farming software, the department said in a statement on Thursday.

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    Xiang's lawyer, Eric Selig, said his client would plead not guilty at his arraignment, which has not been scheduled.

    Monsanto was bought by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, a takeover that was completed in June 2018.

    Assistant Attorney General John Demers accused Beijing of using a Chinese government-run scheme for recruiting scientists as cover for stealing trade secrets.

    "The indictment alleges another example of the Chinese government using Talent Plans to encourage employees to steal intellectual property from their US employers," Demers said.

    China announced in 2008 its "Thousand Talents Plan" to recruit scientific researchers, which authorities in Washington have described as a threat to US national security.

    "Xiang promoted himself to the Chinese government based on his experience at Monsanto," Demers said. "Within a year of being selected as a Talent Plan recruit, he quit his job, bought a one-way ticket to China, and was caught at the airport with a copy of the company's proprietary algorithm before he could spirit it away," he said.

    The US has long accused China of stealing intellectual property and technology, an accusation that is one of the core issues in the trade war between the two countries.

    China did not comment on the specifics of the individual case but repeated its denial of stealing intellectual property.

    "No matter if it's a Chinese citizen or an American citizen, if they've violated a law, if the Americans have fairly handled the case according to law, then we have no objection," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing Friday.

    "But we resolutely oppose the US using this single case as a pretext for saying China has groups that organize and plan steal intellectual property from the US China's technological achievements did not come from theft."

    Xiang is being held in Randolph County Jail in Illinois as he awaits a judge's decision on bail, Selig said. He said Xiang, who has lived in the US for 17 years and has a wife and daughter living in the country, is not a flight risk.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency