A Chinese scientist was sentenced to 121 months in federal prison Wednesday for conspiring to steal genetically-modified rice seeds from a Kansas research facility, the Justice Department said.
Weiqian Zhang, 51, a Chinese national and U.S. legal permanent resident living in Manhattan, Kansas, was convicted on Feb. 15, 2017, of one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property.
Zhang, who worked as a rice breeder at Ventria Bioscience in Junction City, Kansas. The company develops genetically programmed rice for use in medicine and therapeutics.
During his time at Ventria, Zhang stole hundreds of the company’s rice seeds and stored them at his residence, according to court documents. Zhang had planned to give the seeds to a Chinese crop research institute, prosecutors allege. Members of that research institute meet Zhang at his Kansas residence in the summer of 2013.
On August 7, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found Ventria rice seeds in the luggage of the research institute members as they prepared to return to China, the Justice Department said.
“Weiqiang Zhang betrayed his employer by unlawfully providing its proprietary rice seeds to representatives of a Chinese crop institute,” said acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan. “Today’s sentence demonstrates the significant consequences awaiting those who would steal trade secrets from American companies. The Criminal Division and its law enforcement partners will continue to work closely with companies like Ventria to protect American intellectual property — which is essential to our economy and way of life—against all threats both foreign and domestic.”
The FBI’s Little Rock, Arkansas, Field Office and Kansas City, Missouri, Field Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas investigated the case.
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