By Kanishka Singh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Chinese national has been sentenced to 29 months in prison after pleading guilty in January to conspiring to steal trade secrets from agricultural company Monsanto to benefit the Chinese government, the U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday.
Xiang Haitao, 44, who was employed by Monsanto and a subsidiary from 2008 to 2017, had pleaded guilty in Missouri federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage.
On Thursday, he was sentenced to 29 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and a $150,000 fine, the Justice Department said in a statement.
“Xiang conspired to steal an important trade secret to gain an unfair advantage for himself and the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“Economic espionage is a serious offense that can threaten U.S. companies’ competitive advantage, and the National Security Division is committed to holding accountable anyone who steals trade secrets to benefit a foreign government,” Olsen said.
Federal officials found Xiang in possession of copies of a proprietary predictive algorithm developed by Monsanto as he was waiting to board a flight to China in June 2017, the Justice Department said.
He was allowed to fly to China, where he worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science. He was arrested when he returned to the United States in November 2019, the Justice Department added.
Monsanto was acquired by Bayer AG in 2018.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio)