The US Attorney’s Office-Eastern District of Arkansas charged two rice researchers from China with conspiracy to steal rice production technology in an alleged attempt to take proprietary science back to China. A grand jury indicted Liu Xuejun, 49, and Sun Yue, 36, both from China, and charged them with conspiracy to steal trade secrets and conspiracy to commit interstate transport of stolen property. Ventria Bioscience developed the rice seeds and used the technology to create rice seeds that contained proteins, allowing protein extraction from the rice for use in medicines and pharmaceuticals. Ventria, headquartered in Colorado, has a rice production facility in Kansas and has invested about $75 million in developing the rice-seed intellectual property.
Liu and Sun visited the US in 2013 and at the time worked for Crops Research Institute in Tianjin, China. Liu was a professor, and Sun was a research associate. When visiting the US, they went to a number of rice research and production facilities, which included a visit to Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Germany. A rice breeder from Ventria in Kansas and an employee of Dale Bumpers Rice Research Center organized this trip. When Liu and Sun wrapped their trip, they flew to Hawaii on their way to China. A US Customs and Border Protection agent found stolen rice seeds in their luggage, including seeds from Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center and from the Ventria rice production facility in Kansas. In a related case in the District of Kansas, a court convicted the two researchers who helped organize the trip to the US. The court convicted Weiqiang Zhang, 47, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison; Wengui Yan, 63, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 1 year in prison.
The FBI investigated this case, and the US Attorney’s Office prosecuted it. A violation of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets carries a maximum penalty of not more than 10 years in prison, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than 3 years of supervised release. A violation of conspiracy to commit interstate transport of stolen property carries a maximum penalty of not more than 5 years in prison, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than 3 years of supervised release.