Two agricultural scientists from China have been accused of trying to steal patented seeds from a biopharmaceutical company in Kansas.
Separately, six men from China, including the CEO of a seed corn subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate, were charged Thursday with conspiring to steal patented seed corn from two of the nation's leading seed developers, prosecutors said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
It wasn't immediately clear if the arrests were related, but The AP wrote of the group of six charged:
"Court documents read like an espionage novel with Chinese men found crawling on their knees in Midwest cornfields secretly stealing corn ears and federal agents obtaining court orders to tap the cell phone and bug the rental car of the CEO of Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of Beijing-based conglomerate DBN Group."
"The FBI also placed GPS tracking devices on cars and tracked the men as they moved around the Midwest countryside stopping at cornfields and buying bags of seed from dealers in Iowa and Missouri."
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom identified the two scientists charged in Kansas as Weiqiang Zhang, 47, and Wengui Yan, 63, both from the People's Republic of China but living legally in the U.S.
According to a statement issued by Grissom's office:
"The victim in the case – identified in court records as Company A — has invested approximately $75 million in patented technology used to create a variety of seeds containing recombinant proteins. The company has an extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100 issued and pending patents and exclusive licenses to issued patents."
"An affidavit in support of the complaint alleges that on Aug. 7, 2013, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China preparing to board a plane to return home. While in the United States, the group had visited various agricultural facilities and universities in the Midwest, as well as the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuggart, Ark."
The six others include Mo Hailong, who was arrested in Wednesday in Miami, according to U.S. Attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt, the Des Moines-based federal prosecutor for central Iowa, according to AP.
Mo is charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The other five men charged are being sought by federal authorities, Klinefeldt said.
The AP says:
"Wang Hongwei, a dual citizen of China and Canada, who lives in Canada, also is charged. Klinefeldt said the U.S. and Canada does have an extradition agreement and all avenues are being considered to bring him into custody."
"Court documents allege the men were observed taking corn from test fields containing highly valuable seed owned by Pioneer Hybrid and Monsanto, hiding it in a storage unit near Des Moines and eventually taking it to farm in Monee, Ill., which the FBI said had been purchased by Kings Nower Seed in March 2012."