More arrests made in seed theft conspiracy

Published on: Dec 27, 2013

FEDERAL prosecutors have made additional arrests and charges in two different espionage cases that involve stealing intellectual property from U.S. seed companies and transporting it to China.

Five more Chinese nationals were indicted for conspiracy to steal trade secrets in the case in Iowa. Prosecutors charged Li Shaoming, Wang Lei, Wang Hongwei, Ye Jian and Lin Yong — all natives of China — in addition to Mo Hailong, who was previously charged on Dec. 10, for conspiring to steal inbred corn seed from DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto and LG Seeds and attempting to transport the seed to China.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched a full-scale investigation after suspicious activity reported in an Iowa field growing inbred lines of seed led investigators to track the activities of Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo.

Mo was reported gathering samples in fields in Iowa and Illinois. The court documents said he shipped packages containing seed at different times to his home in Florida. In addition, Mo spent some time at a field near Monee, Ill., owned by Kings Nower Seed. The investigation found that he was not working alone (Feedstuffs, Dec. 23).

Mo is director of international business for the Beijing DABEI NONG Technology Group Co. Ltd., which, according to FBI records, is believed to be a Chinese conglomerate with a large seed company in China, Beijing Kings Nower Seed Science & Technology Co. Ltd.

Four of the individuals arrested are citizens of China and employees of Kings Nower Seed. Li Shaoming is chief executive officer, Wang Lei is vice chairman, Ye Jian is research manager and Lin Young also was an employee.

The remaining suspect, Wang Hongwei, is believed to be a resident of Canada and China. His direct relationship to Kings Nower Seed has not been disclosed.

In September 2012, all parties involved flew to different locations. Mo, Wang Lei and Wang Hongwei all flew domestically, while Li and Ye were traveling to China.

An outbound inspection of Ye's luggage turned up 30 individual seed kernels wrapped in napkins in the clothing within his bags. Upon further inspection, additional samples were found in his possession in his front pocket.

At the Canadian border, Wang Hongwei's rental car and luggage were inspected, in coordination with an FBI investigation, as he attempted to cross into Canada. A search revealed approximately 44 grocery sacks labeled with generic numbers. Inside each bag were about 20 manila envelopes with various amounts of seed. Wang Hongwei had stated that he purchased the seed in Chicago, Ill., from Mo.

At this point, it appears that no seeds actually reached the intended final destination of China.

As valuable intellectual property of seed companies, these "inbred" or "parent" lines of seed involved in the case took five to eight years of research and a minimum investment of $30-40 million.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury charged two Chinese scientists, Weiqiang Zhang of Manhattan, Kan., and Wengui Yan of Stuttgart, Ark., with one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets and one count of theft of trade secrets. Originally, they were charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. district court on Dec. 12.

The two allegedly conspired to steal rice samples from Ventria Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company with a research facility in Junction City, Kan. Court documents stated that Zhang and Yan allowed Chinese visitors from a research institute to obtain possession of the rice seed developed by Ventria at the Kansas research facility (Feedstuffs, Dec. 23).

If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

Volume:85 Issue:53