Two Chinese Researchers Charged with Conspiracy to Steal Rice Technology

Little Rock, AR—Two rice researchers from China have been charged in a conspiracy to steal rice production technology in an alleged attempt to bring this proprietary science back to China.

Liu Xuejun, 49, and Sun Yue, 36 were indicted on Friday for their involvement in the theft of rice seeds designed for use in the medical field.

The rice seeds were developed by a company called Ventria Bioscience, which used technology to create rice seeds that contained certain proteins. These proteins could then be removed from the rice and used in medicines and pharmaceutical products. Ventria, which is headquartered in Colorado and has a rice production facility in Kansas, has invested approximately $75 million in developing the intellectual property behind these rice seeds.

Liu and Sun visited the United States in 2013. At that time, they both worked at the Crops Research Institute in Tianjin, China. Liu was a professor, and Sun was a research associate. They came to the United States to visit several rice research and production facilities, and their visit included a stop at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart.

Their trip was organized by Weiqiang Zhang, who was a rice breeder at Ventria in Kansas, and Wengui Yan, who worked at the Dale Bumpers Rice Research Center in Stuttgart. When Liu and Sun ended their trip, they flew to Honolulu, Hawaii, on their way back to China. At the Honolulu airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen rice seeds in Liu and Sun’s luggage, including seeds from the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center as well as seeds from the Ventria rice production facility in Kansas.

The two rice researchers who helped organize Liu and Sun’s trip to the United States were convicted of their involvement in the scheme in a connected case in the District of Kansas.  Zhang, 47, was convicted at trial and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Yan, 63, who worked in Stuttgart, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison.

A violation of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets carries a maximum penalty of not more than 10 years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years of supervised release. A violation of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years’ imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years of supervised release.

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