Prosecutors in US Midwest charge six Chinese with plot to steal seed corn
Court hears some suspects were found on their knees in farmers' fields stealing ears of corn patented by one of world's leading crop developers
Six men from China, including the chief executive of a conglomerate's seed subsidiary, have been charged with conspiring to steal patented seed corn from two of the leading seed developers in the United States, prosecutors said.
Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, was arrested on Wednesday in Miami, in the state of Florida, where he lived, said Nicholas Klinefeldt, the federal prosecutor for central Iowa, a state in the US Midwest. Mo is charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets.
The other five men charged were being sought by federal authorities, Klinefeldt said.
Court documents read like an espionage novel, with men found crawling on their knees in cornfields stealing corn ears and federal agents obtaining court orders to tap the mobile phone and bug the rental car of the chief executive of Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of Beijing-based conglomerate DBN Group.
The FBI also placed GPS tracking devices on cars and tracked the men as they moved around the countryside stopping at cornfields and buying bags of seed from dealers in Iowa and the state of Missouri.
Kings Nower Seed did not immediately reply to an e-mail message seeking comment.
The other men charged are Li Shaoming, chief executive of Kings Nower Seed, employees Wang Lei, Ye Jian, and Lin Young, who all live in China, and Wang Hongwei, a dual citizen of China and Canada, who lives in Canada.
Klinefeldt said the US and Canada did have an extradition agreement and all avenues were being considered to take Wang Hongwei into custody. China and the US do not have an extradition agreement.
Court documents allege the men were observed taking corn from test fields containing highly valuable seed owned by Pioneer Hybrid and Monsanto, hiding it in a storage unit and eventually taking it to farm in Monee, Illinois, which the FBI said had been purchased by Kings Nower Seed in March last year.
In August last year, the FBI attached listening and GPS tracking devices to a car rented by Lin and Ye and recorded conversations about how they collected seed, what they would do with it, what might happen if they were caught, and how Li was directing the activity.
On September 30 last year, the FBI tracked Ye and Li as they prepared to fly from Chicago to China. US Customs searched them and found corn seed in their luggage. Ye had seed concealed in his pockets.
Wang Hongwei flew to the state of Vermont in the US northeast and rented a car to drive into Canada. The FBI notified border agents to watch for him and he was searched. According to court documents, 44 packets containing corn seeds were found under the car seat and in his luggage.
Seed developers such as Monsanto and Pioneer spend millions of dollars and years to develop new varieties and protect them against theft to maintain a competitive advantage.
The charges are the culmination of a 21/2-year investigation by the FBI that began in the summer of 2011 after Mo, Wang, and Li were found in the field of a farmer growing test seed for Monsanto.