Sunday, 26 June, 2022
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US jails Chinese origin, ex-Coca Cola staff for stealing expensive trade secrets to help China

Michigan woman Shannon You was convicted of appropriating secret formula to create anti-contamination coating for food containers.

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New Delhi: A 59-year-old Michigan woman has been sentenced by the United States to 14 years in prison for stealing multi-million dollar trade secrets to benefit the Chinese.

The  chemical engineer, a former Coca Cola employee, appropriated “world-class technologies” to “enrich herself and her China-based partners… also the government of China”, the US Justice Department said.

Xiaorong “Shannon” You, the 59-year-old from Lansing, Michigan, was sentenced Monday by a federal judge in Tennessee. The jury convicted her last month following a 13-day trial on charges that include conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage and wire fraud, the US Department of Justice said.

The sentence reportedly also includes three years of supervised release and a fine of $200,000.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division in a statement said, “The defendant stole valuable trade secrets and intended to use them to benefit not only a foreign company, but also the government of China.”

You, a naturalized US citizen born in China, has been convicted of stealing a secret formula to create bispheno-A-free coating, a chemical which is usually used to line beverage cans or food containers to prevent the contents inside from coming in contact with the metal surface. The coating protects the container from corrosion and its contents from contamination.

According to prosecutors, Xiaorong You – who worked at Coca-Cola as the principal engineer for global research from December 2012 to August 2017 – accessed secrets about BPA-free internal coatings of beverage cans, developed by Dow Chemicals while working at the company in Atlanta and Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee.

The trade secrets are believed to have cost major chemical and coating companies nearly $120 million to develop.

The stolen trade secrets were used by You to establish a BPA-free coating company in China. Her Chinese partner (Weihai Jinhong Group) received millions of dollars in Chinese government grants to back the new company.

Further, prosecutors also pointed out the Chinese American engineer intended to benefit the governments of China, the Chinese province of Shandong, the Chinese city of Weihai and the Chinese Communist Party.

“Stealing technology isn’t just a crime against a company,” said Acting Assistant Director Bradley S. Benavides of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. He added, “It’s a crime against American workers whose jobs and livelihoods are impacted.”

You’s case is one of the many that the Justice Department has prosecuted under its now-shuttered China Initiative, which was launched by the previous Donald Trump administration in 2018 to investigate and counter Chinese espionage in American businesses and research by eliminating possible spies and halting the transfer of information and technology to China.

The program resulted in charges against numerous Chinese academics and researchers, but soon attracted criticism of being ineffective, racially biased and disproportionate. Some of the cases under the initiative reportedly, were based on false evidence by the FBI. The initiative was shut down on 23 February earlier this year, citing perceptions of unfair treatment of Chinese Americans and residents of Chinese origin.

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