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Seven Charged In Corn Seed Heist

Trade Secrets: DuPont, Monsanto are targets of Chinese competitor

by Marc S. Reisch
July 14, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 28

Credit: Shutterstock
Defendants are charged with pilfering corn seed from fields in Iowa and Illinois.
Corn field.
Credit: Shutterstock
Defendants are charged with pilfering corn seed from fields in Iowa and Illinois.

A Des Moines, Iowa, federal grand jury has indicted seven Chinese nationals for stealing hybrid corn seed technology from DuPont and Monsanto test fields in Iowa and Illinois.

The indictment accuses the group of conspiring to steal and send back to China parent seed lines containing gene-modified and plant-bred traits such as resistance to disease, pests, and drought. All seven worked on behalf of Dabeinong Technology Group, a Beijing-based agricultural conglomerate founded in 1993.

Among those arrested and indicted is Mo Yun, the wife of Dabeinong founder Shao Genhuo, says the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa. According to Forbes magazine, Shao has a net worth of $1.3 billion. The indictment accuses Mo of being the brains behind the operation.

The FBI began tracking the group in May 2011 following an alert from DuPont. A company security guard, posted at a cornfield in Iowa, had reported observing Mo Hailong, Mo Yun’s brother and Dabeinong’s director of international business, on his knees digging up recently planted corn seed.

The FBI subsequently tracked Mo Hailong and others over the next year and a half as the group collected corn seed and mature ears of parent corn from research fields operated by DuPont, Monsanto, and the seed company AgReliant Genetics.

To get the seed back to China, the government says, one defendant tucked the stolen kernels into Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn boxes packed into his luggage. A second defendant traveling back to China tried to conceal the seed corn in Pop Weaver boxes.

Each of the defendants faces a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of $250,000, according to a government spokesman.

For DuPont, the case is the latest in a string of intellectual property theft experiences. In 2012, federal prosecutors charged five people with stealing DuPont’s titanium dioxide technology at the behest of the Chinese government. In 2009, DuPont accused South Korea’s Kolon Industries with stealing trade secrets for making Kevlar aramid fiber. It has been fighting Kolon in court since then.



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