Chinese national pleads guilty in U.S. court to stealing trade secrets

A former Monsanto employee pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage

Updated: January 7, 2022 - 1:37pm

A Chinese national has pleaded guilty in a Missouri federal court to conspiring to steal trade secrets from U.S. agriculture company Monsanto. 

According to the Justice Department, Xiang Haitao worked as an imaging scientist for Monsanto and a subsidiary company from 2008 to 2017. He pleaded guilty earlier this week to a single count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage (to benefit the Chinese government), and is scheduled for sentencing in early April. He is facing a maximum sentence of 15 years, a potential fine of $5 million, and a term of supervised release of not more than three years.

Xiang, 44, was found to be in possession of copies of a Monsanto-developed proprietary predictive algorithm in 2017 as he attempted to board a flight to China, where he worked for the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Soil Science.

Federal officials allowed him to depart but arrested him upon his return to the U.S. 

"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," aid Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division said of the plea, "The American worker suffers when adversaries, like the Government of China, steal technology to grow their economies ... .The FBI will continue investigating the theft of technology from American companies because economic security is national security."