Suspected Chinese spy allowed to bring former US government official onto legal team

  • A former US national security prosecutor will be a lawyer for Xu Yanjun, a Chinese intelligence officer extradited to the United States to stand trial
  • Xu has been charged with attempting to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation and other American aerospace companies
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 11:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 3:08pm

Lawyers for a Chinese intelligence official charged with trying to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation and other American aerospace companies have succeeded in bringing a former US Justice Department official onto his defence team.

Xu Yanjun, a senior officer with China’s Ministry of State Security, was extradited to the US on October 9 on espionage charges. His legal team will now include Robert McBride, a former national security prosecutor and now a partner in the northern Kentucky office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, according to federal court documents.

It is not known who has engaged the law firm on Xu’s behalf.

Judge Timothy Black of the Southern District of Ohio approved a request by one of Xu’s lawyers, Ralph Kohnen, to allow McBride to join the team even though McBride is not registered to practice law in Ohio.

Before going into private practice, McBride was with the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky for 16 years, where he served as an anti-terrorism counsel coordinator and oversaw all criminal prosecutions in the district, according to Taft Stettinius.

US keeping accused Chinese spy jailed over use of alias

Kohnen and Jeanne Marie Cors, both Ohio-registered lawyers defending Xu, did not respond to an emailed request for details about McBride’s role on the defence team.

Xu, who also uses the names Qu Hui and Zhang Hui, was arrested in Belgium on April 1 and extradited to the US with help from Belgian authorities. He is accused of seeking “to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from an American company that leads the way in aerospace”, John Demers, an assistant attorney general for national security, said in a Justice Department announcement on October 10.

Xu was lured to Belgium as part of an “unprecedented” joint effort of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s division in Cincinnati, Ohio; the FBI legal attaché’s office in Brussels; Belgian law enforcement officials; and GE Aviation, the Justice Department said.

He remained in custody for six months, trying unsuccessfully to appeal to Belgian authorities for his release, before being extradited to Cincinnati, where GE Aviation is based.

US engineer charged with stealing GE trade secrets for China

On October 12, a federal magistrate judge in Ohio denied Xu’s request to be released before his trial, in part because Xu is sticking to what prosecutors said was an alias.

The formal complaint alleges that Xu represented himself as an associate of the Jiangsu Science and Technology Promotion Association to obtain trade secrets from US companies including GE Aviation, according to court documents.

Other documents say Xu passed himself off as an employee of the Nanjing Science and Technology Association.