Thursday, December 12, 2013

Two agricultural scientists from China charged with stealing trade secrets

U.S. Department of Justice

KANSAS CITY, KAN. – Two agricultural scientists from China have been charged with trying to steal samples of a variety of seeds from a biopharmaceutical company’s research facility in Kansas, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said today.

Weiqiang Zhang, 47, Manhattan, Kan., and Wengui Yan, 63, Stuttgart, Ark., are charged with one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

The victim in the case – identified in court records as Company A -- has invested approximately $75 million in patented technology used to create a variety of seeds containing recombinant proteins. The company has an extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100 issued and pending patents and exclusive licenses to issued patents.

Zhang and Yan are charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. An affidavit in support of the complaint alleges that on Aug. 7, 2013, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China preparing to board a plane to return home.

While in the United States, 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 natives of the People’s Republic of China living lawfully in the United States, arranged for the Chinese delegation to visit the United States in 2013. Previously, the two had traveled to China at the same time in 2012 to visit a Crops Research Institute. Some of the people they met in China were members of the Chinese delegation that visited the United States in 2013.

Zhang, worked as an agricultural seed breeder for Company A since 2008.

Stolen seeds were delivered to members of the Chinese delegation during the delegation’s visit to the United States July 16 through August 7, 2013.

Yan, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a rice geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, picked up the Chinese delegation from a motel in Stuggart, Ark., on July 22, 2013, and took them to the center.

Seeds similar to what were found in the delegation’s possession as they left the United States in August 2013, were also found in Zhang’s residence on December 11, 2013.

If convicted, Zhang and Yan face a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000. The Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Kansas City Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigated. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask is prosecuting with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Arkansas.

In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictments merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.