Chinese national sentenced for economic espionage conspiracy
WASHINGTON, D.C. (KFVS) - A scientist working for Monsanto and the company’s subsidiary was sentenced Friday, April 8 to 29 months in prison and a $150,000 fine or conspiring to commit economic espionage.
Chinese national, 44-year-old Xiang Haitao, formally of Chesterfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty to the charge in January.
According to court documents, Xiang conspired to steal a trade secret from The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, for the purpose of benefitting a foreign government, namely the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Xiang worked as an imaging scientist from 2008 to 2017.
He was accused of stealing a predictive algorithm, called a Nutrient Optimizer, used in a software program for farmers.
Court documents state that the day after leaving his job, Xiang attempted to travel to China, but when federal officials searched his luggage they found electronic devices with copies of the Nutrient Optimizer.
Xiang continued to China where he worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science, but he was arrested when he returned to the U.S. in November 2019.
U.S. Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, of the DOJ’s National Security Division, said Xianga conspired to steal an important trade secret for himself and the PRC.
According to the FBI’s St. Louis Field Office, this is the first economic espionage conviction in the history of the Eastern District of Missouri and a rarity in the U.S.
“There are less than two dozen such convictions nationwide,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Akil Davis of FBI’s St. Louis Field Office. “Economic espionage convictions are rare because the elements required to prove state-sponsored theft is extremely difficult.”
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection investigated the case.
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