A corporate agriculture espionage case announced Thursday by federal prosecutors offered a glimpse into how at least seven Chinese men allegedly traveled across the Midwest to steal millions of dollars in seed technology, reports Jens Manuel Krogstad, USA TODAY.
The investigation revealed how the men used counter-surveillance techniques to shake FBI tails, but still had the seeds confiscated by law enforcement authorities as they tried to leave the country.
Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, is accused of stealing trade secrets worth at least $30 million to $40 million, said Nicholas Klinefeldt, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. It’s the first corporate agriculture espionage case of its kind in Iowa, officials said.
“The point is to call people out on this type of activity,” Klinefeldt said. “So that people know about it, and so companies can take the right precautions to prevent it from happening again.”
Mo, the only person charged or arrested, used an alias to tour DuPont Pioneer’s headquarters in Johnston, Iowa, and Monsanto’s research facility in Ankeny. He also attended a state dinner in which Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad welcomed Xi Jinping, the then-future president of China, back to the Iowa. Mo and others often met at farm in Illinois bought by Kings Nower Seed, a Chinese seed company for which they were spying, court documents show.
The charge against Mo comes in a state that has pushed to increase trade with China. In October, trade agreements worth an estimated $1 billion were signed by companies from Iowa and China’s Hebei Province.
Mo allegedly stole inbred corn seeds from fields in Iowa and Illinois between September 2011 and October 2012 that represented several years worth of research, according to a criminal complaint. Inbred seeds are valuable because they pass on drought- and pest-resistant traits to planting seeds that will be grown and harvested.
Mo, a Chinese citizen and permanent U.S. resident, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine, officials said. He works for a company that’s a part of DBN Group, a Chinese conglomerate with a corn seed company, Kings Nower Seed.