Federal prosecutors charged two Chinese scientists Thursday with trying to steal seeds developed by a research company’s laboratory in Kansas.
Weiqiang Zhang, 47, of Manhattan, Kan., and Wengui Yan, 63, of Stuttgart, Ark., each are charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets.
The research company, which was not identified in court records, has invested about $75 million to develop technology used to create a variety of seeds, and holds more than 100 licenses plus issued and pending patents.
Zhang was an agricultural seed breeder for the research company, and Yan worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a rice geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Arkansas. Both are natives of the People’s Republic of China, living legally in the United States.
The defendants, according to court records, helped arrange the July 16-Aug. 7 visit of a Chinese agricultural delegation to U.S. agricultural facilities, universities and the Bumpers center. As the group prepared to leave, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found seeds in their luggage.
Eventually, scientists matched some of those seeds to a variety produced by the research company.
Agents searching Zhang’s home this week found seeds similar to those found with the delegation.
Before the search, Zhang said agents would find nothing like that at his home. Afterward, he said he had harvested the seeds from a company field in October and had taken them home for “private research.”