A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Thursday to using his “insider status” at an international company based in St. Louis, Missouri, to steal trade secrets for the Chinese government.
According to authorities and court documents, Xiang Haitao, 44, a former resident of St. Louis county, conspired to steal trade secrets from Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology company best known for its product “Roundup.”
“Despite Xiang’s agreements to protect Monsanto’s intellectual property and repeated training on his obligations to do so, Xiang has now admitted that he stole a trade secret from Monsanto, transferred it to a memory card and attempted to take it to the People’s Republic of China for the benefit of Chinese government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “With his guilty plea, Xiang is now being held accountable for this unlawful conduct.”
Xiang worked for Monsanto as an imaging scientist from 2008 to 2017. The company along with The Climate Corporation developed a farming software platform that farmers could use to collect agricultural data. An important part of the software was an algorithm known as the Nutrient Optimizer. “Monsanto and The Climate Corporation considered the Nutrient Optimizer a valuable trade secret and their intellectual property,” the DOJ press release said.
The day after Xiang left Monsanto, he attempted to fly to China, but federal officials searched his baggage. Later, according to the DOJ, “Investigators found that one of Xiang’s electronic devices contained copies of the Nutrient Optimizer.” He returned to China and worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science, but upon his return to America, Xiang was arrested.
“The American worker suffers when adversaries, like the Government of China, steal technology to grow their economies,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “It’s not just military technology developed in secret labs that adversaries want; in this case, it was agricultural technology used by American farmers to improve crop yields. The FBI will continue investigating the theft of technology from American companies because economic security is national security.”
Xiang is the second person this month to plead guilty to stealing secrets for China. On Wednesday, The Daily Wire reported that a scientist pleaded guilty to stealing monoclonal antibody research for a Chinese pharmaceutical company.
A scientist from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets for a Chinese pharmaceutical company after forming a fraudulent cancer research and drug company to store stolen information.
According to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lucy Xi, 44, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a large multinational pharmaceutical company, and giving the secrets to Renopharma, a Chinese pharmaceutical company.”
After the intellectual property theft at GSK, the FBI committed to preventing companies and countries from stealing from American businesses. “The FBI is committed to enforcing laws that protect the nation’s businesses from such theft. We will not permit American research and development to be scavenged for the benefit of other companies or countries,” FBI Special Agent Jacqueline Maguire said.
Xiang faces 15 years in prison, a fine of $5 million, and a term of supervised release. He will be sentenced in a federal court on April 7.