A former Ford engineer will be spending as much as six years behind bars after being convicted of stealing trade secrets with the intent of selling them to the Chinese.
Xiang Dong Yu, arrested in October 2009, will also have to pay a $12,500 fine after pleading guilty to two felony counts in U.S. District Court.
The Ford case underscores growing concerns about Chinese industrial espionage – thought the outcome stands in sharp contrast to the spy scandal that embroiled French automaker Renault and has led to the ousting of five senior executives, including the maker’s chief operating officer.
The 49-year-old Yu worked at Ford from 1997 through 2007. According to government prosecutors, he accepted another position with Beijing Automotive Industry Corp., in December 2006. But before notifying Ford – which routinely escorts employees out of the building once they take a competitive job – Yu copied at least 4,000 Ford documents onto an external hard drive.
The documents, some quite sensitive, covered a range of topics, including electric power supplies, engines and transmission systems. In all, prosecutors claim, the stolen material was worth millions of dollars.
Yu was already in China when he notified Ford he was leaving. The maker subsequently discovered the document theft and contacted prosecutors.
The engineer was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, in October 2009, when he attempted to return to the U.S.
The Yu incident is just one of the growing number of industrial espionage cases that have been pursued by the U.S. Justice Department in recent years, notes TheStreet.com.
“There’s been a lot of pressure from business and from the defense communities, both in the government and at contractors, that this is a problem,” says Sean Noonan, an analyst at Stratfor, a firm that provides research and analysis on geopolitical issues.
U.S. companies, including Ford, General Motors, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, aren’t the only ones troubled by the apparent rise in Chinese espionage efforts. Early this year, French carmaker Renault fired three senior executives it believed were involved in a Chinese spy campaign focused on Renault’s electric vehicle program.
The case unraveled, however, when French government investigators got involved – and traced the real problem to a scam launched by members of the carmaker’s own security department.
This week, under pressure from the Paris government – which holds a major stake in the company – Renault announced that five executives, including COO Patrick Pelata, will be ousted as a result of the scandal.
(For more on the Renault spy case, Click Here.)