Chinese scientists accused of trying to steal US seed samples

Two agricultural scientists from
China have been accused of
conspiring to take seeds from a
research facility in Kansas and pass
them to a Chinese delegation visiting
the United States.
At a detention hearing in
Arkansas on Friday, a judge ordered
one of the scientists, Wengui Yan, to
remain in custody. The other
scientist, Weiqiang Zhang, is set to
have a hearing on Tuesday in Kansas.
Yan and Zhang are charged with
conspiracy to steal trade secrets.
Prosecutors say the pair arranged for
a Chinese delegation to visit the US
this year and that customs agents
later found stolen seeds in the
delegation's luggage as it was
preparing to return to China.
At Friday's hearing, a federal
judge ordered Yan, a naturalised US
citizen, to remain in custody after
prosecutors argued that he could flee
the country.
Yan's lawyer, Chris Tarver, said
Yan had lived in the US for years and
that authorities had seized his
passport. Zhang's lawyer did not
immediately respond to an email
seeking comment.
US magistrate Judge J Thomas Ray
acknowledged that Yan has strong ties
to Arkansas, but added, "There is a
strong inference from the complaint
that Dr Yan and his co-defendant
were involved in a conspiracy to try
to get advanced agricultural
technology into the hands of the
delegation that they helped to invite
into the country."
Also this week, prosecutors in
Iowa said six men from China,
including the CEO of a seed corn
subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate,
have been charged with conspiring to
steal patented seed corn from two of
America's leading seed developers. It
was not immediately clear if the
cases in Kansas and Iowa were
related.
Seed developers spend millions of
dollars a years to develop new
varieties and carefully protect them
against theft to maintain a
competitive advantage.
Yan worked for the Department
of Agriculture as a research geneticist
at the Dale Bumpers National Rice
Research Center in Arkansas, and
Zhang worked as an agricultural seed
breeder for a biopharmaceutical
company that has a production
facility in Junction City, Kansas,
according to a court document.
Prosecutors only identified the
business where Zhang worked as
Company A, but said the business
invested about $75m in technology
used to create seeds.
"If this technology was
compromised or the seeds were
stolen, Company A believes its entire
research and development investment
would be compromised," an FBI
special agent wrote in a court
document.
Zhang allegedly took seeds that
his employer had grown and kept
them at his home in Kansas. After a
Chinese delegation visited the US,
customs agents searched its luggage
and found stolen seeds in envelopes
and also in makeshift containers,
including a newspaper page that had
been folded in the shape of an
envelope, according to court
documents.
If convicted, Zhang and Yan
could face up to 10 years in federal
prison and a fine of up to $250,000