ECONOMIC ESPIONAGE

Arkansas scientist pleads guilty to stealing rice seed secrets for China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 5:56pm

A 61-year-old scientist has pleaded guilty to a federal charge nearly three years after he was accused of stealing proprietary seeds developed in the US and giving them to a delegation visiting from China.

Wengui Yan, of Stuttgart, Arkansas, pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, to one count of making false statements to the FBI, the Justice Department said in a release on Wednesday.

Yan was a geneticist for the US Department of Agriculture at the Dale Bumpers National Research Centre in Stuttgart, when he was originally charged in December 2013. He and another scientist Weiqiang Zhang were charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets and theft of trade secrets. Zhang is a US permanent resident and Yan a naturalised US citizen.

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Zhang, 50, an agricultural seed breeder at Ventria Bioscience’s facility in Junction City, is awaiting a trial. According to Yan’s plea, US Customs and Border Protection found the seeds in the luggage of a delegation from China as the delegation prepared to leave the US in August 2013. The group had recently visited the USDA’s Stuttgart centre.

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Yan admitted in the plea that he traveled with the Chinese delegation to an Arkansas rice farm and knew they would have an opportunity to steal seeds, and that after the seeds were stolen, Yan denied knowing about the theft. Yan faces up to about a year and a half in federal prison. Under the original charges, he had faced up to 10 years in prison and fines up to US$250,000 on each count.