Seed World

Seed Thief Pleads Guilty, Faces Up to 15 Years in Prison, $5 Million in Fines

After years of gathering evidence, litigating and negotiating, the justice department is imposing punishment for attempted theft of agricultural technology.

On Jan. 6, Xiang Haitao, a Chinese national pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage, according to a release from the Department of Justice (DOJ). According to court documents, Xiang conspired to steal a trade secret from Monsanto (now Bayer) for the purpose of benefitting the People’s Republic of China.

Xiang pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 7. He faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a potential fee of $5 million.

“Despite Xiang’s agreements to protect Monsanto’s intellectual property and repeated training on his obligations to do so, Xiang has now admitted that he stole a trade secret from Monsanto, transferred it to a memory card and attempted to take it to the People’s Republic of China for the benefit of Chinese government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division in the release. “With his guilty plea, Xiang is now being held accountable for this unlawful conduct.”

Xiang was employed by Monsanto and its subsidiary The Climate Corporation from 2008-2017, where he worked as an imaging scientist. Specifically, the release notes that Xiang was found boarding a one-way plane to China and was found in possession of a copy of Monsanto’s Nutrient Optimizer, a proprietary predictive algorithm.

“The American worker suffers when adversaries, like the Government of China, steal technology to grow their economies,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “It’s not just military technology developed in secret labs that adversaries want; in this case, it was agricultural technology used by American farmers to improve crop yields. The FBI will continue investigating the theft of technology from American companies because economic security is national security.”