US sentences first Chinese spy to 20 years in prison for trying to steal trade secrets from aviation companies

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WASHINGTON: A court in the US city of Cincinnati sentenced the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the country to 20 years in prison for conspiring to steal trade secrets from aviation companies, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Yanjun Xu, 42, targeted American aviation companies, recruited employees to travel to China, and solicited their proprietary information, all on behalf of the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“This case sends a clear message: we will hold accountable anyone attempting to steal American trade secrets,” US Attorney Kenneth Parker said in a statement. “Xu conspired to steal American science and technology. Thanks to the diligent work of the FBI, GE Aviation, and our trial team, he’ll spend decades in federal prison.”

On November 5, a federal jury convicted Xu on counts of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, attempted economic espionage and attempted trade secret theft. Xu was a career intelligence officer, beginning in 2003 and rising to the rank of deputy division director at the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), the intelligence and security agency for China.

According to court documents and trial testimony, beginning in at least December 2013, Xu targeted specific companies in the United States and abroad that are recognized as leaders in the field of aviation.

Xu used aliases, front companies and universities to deceive aviation employees and solicit information. He identified individuals who worked for the companies and recruited them to travel to China, often initially under the guise that they were traveling to give a presentation at a university. Xu and others paid the individuals stipends on top of covering travel costs.

“The scheme was executed with full coordination between the MSS and China’s aviation entities. Xu worked with others in the MSS to hack or copy computers in hotel rooms while the aviation employees – his “guests” – were taken to dinner by the MSS,” the US Justice Department said in a statement.Xu also openly talked about efforts to obtain U.S. military information in addition to commercial aviation trade secrets, it added.

According to the Justice Department, Xu attempted to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan module – which no other company in the world has been able to duplicate – to benefit the Chinese state.

“As proven at trial, the defendant, a Chinese government intelligence officer, used a range of techniques to attempt to steal technology and proprietary information from companies based in both the U.S. and abroad,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

“Today’s sentence demonstrates the seriousness of those crimes and the Justice Department’s determination to investigate and prosecute efforts by the Chinese government, or any foreign power, to threaten our economic and national security,” Garland added. (ANI)

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