Stuttgart agricultural scientist accused of trying to steal trade secrets

A Chinese scientist who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Stuttgart was one of two men arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets by federal authorities.

Wengui Yan, 63, of Stuttgart, who worked at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center at Stuttgart and Weiqiang Zhang, 47, of Manhattan, Kan., were accused of trying to steal samples of a variety of seeds from a biopharmaceutical company’s research facility in Kansas, according to Kansas U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.

The victim in the case, identified in court records as “Company A,” has invested about $75 million in patented technology to create a variety of seeds containing recombinant proteins and has an extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100 issued and pending patents and exclusive license to issue patents.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., agents from U.S. Customs and Border Security found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China that were preparing to return home on Aug. 7. 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.

Also according to the complaint, Zhang and Yan, both natives of the People’s Republic of China living lawfully in the United States, had arranged for the Chinese delegation to visit the United States this year. The two had previously traveled to China at the same time in 2012 to visit a crop research facility, and some of the people they met in China were members of the delegation that visited the United States.

Zhang had worked as an agricultural seed breeder for Company A since 2008, and stolen seeds were delivered to members of the Chinese delegation during their visit between July 16 and Aug. 7.

Yan picked up the delegation at a motel in Stuttgart on July 22 and took them to the center.

Seeds similar to what were found in the luggage of the delegation were also found in Zhang’s residence in Kansas on Wednesday.

In convicted, Zhang and Yan face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The Little Rock and Kansas City Field Offices of the FBI and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol investigated the incident, which is being prosecuted in Kansas, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas.