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United States

Chinese scientist gets 10 years in US prison for stealing engineered rice from research facility

Zhang Weiqiang was a rice breeder for Ventria Bioscience in Junction City, Kansas, which developed genetically engineered rice for therapeutic and medical fields

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 9:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 9:46pm

A Chinese scientist in the United States was sentenced on Wednesday to more than 10 years in a federal prison for conspiring to steal samples of a variety of genetically engineered rice seeds from a US research facility.

US District Court Judge Carlos Murguia in the District of Kansas sentenced Zhang Weiqiang, 51, a Chinese national living in Manhattan, Kansas, to 121 months in prison.

Zhang was convicted in February 2017 on three counts, including conspiracy to steal trade secrets and interstate transport of stolen property, the department said in a statement.

“Today’s sentence demonstrates the significant consequences awaiting those who would steal trade secrets from American companies,” said John Cronan, DOJ’s acting assistant attorney general.

Neither Zhang nor his lawyer could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Zhang, who holds a doctorate from Louisiana State University, worked as a rice breeder for Kansas-based Ventria Bioscience Inc, which develops genetically programmed rice used in the therapeutic and medical fields.

Prosecutors said Zhang stored hundreds of seeds from Ventria at his home. In 2013, Zhang toured facilities in the Midwest with officials from a crop research institute in China. Federal officials found Ventria seeds in the visitors’ luggage as they prepared to return to China.

China had long banned commercial growing of GMO grains due to public opposition to the technology.

But last year, ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss agrochemical and seed company Syngenta was seen by market analysts and industry experts as a sign that the country was becoming more open to production of genetically modified crops.

In recent years, US law enforcement officials have urged agriculture executives and security officers to increase their vigilance and report suspicious activity involving farm products, citing a growing economic and national security threat to the sector.

Additional reporting by Associated Press