Chinese employee pleads guilty to stealing US crop genetics

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DES MOINES — A Chinese citizen has entered a plea agreement with United States prosecutors, admitting that he participated in a conspiracy to steal seed corn from American companies.

[AP| January, 28 2016 | The New York Times]

Mo Hailong, a permanent resident of the United States, was living in Florida when he was arrested in December 2013.

He is accused of traveling to the Midwest to work with other employees of Kings Nower Seed, a subsidiary of the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group to take corn seed out of fields in Iowa in order to ship it to China so scientists could attempt to reproduce its genetic traits.

In the plea agreement reached Wednesday, Mr. Mo admitted that he had conspired to steal trade secrets from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.

He is the only one who has been prosecuted for conspiracy. Five other Chinese citizens working with Mr. Mo fled the country. Charges were dropped last year against his sister, who is married to DBN’s billionaire chief executive, and she was allowed to return to China.

Mr. Mo, 46, who goes by the name Robert Mo, will be sentenced in Des Moines. He could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the government agreed to seek no more than five years.

His attorney, Mark Weinhardt, said Mr. Mo had recently completed treatment for a rare cancer “and his health is his paramount concern. Robert and his family are relieved that they can avoid the strain of a long and complex trial.”

Mr. Mo “looks forward to getting this matter behind him and moving forward in life with his wife and children,” Mr. Weinhardt said.

Mr. Mo has lived in the United States for nearly 20 years, and his wife and children are American citizens.

The plea agreement indicates that Mr. Mo will give the government farms near Monee, Ill., and Redfield, Iowa, used in the operation of the conspiracy. It also said that he had acknowledged that he might be immediately deported from the United States after he serves his prison sentence.

The investigation began two years ago when members of DuPont Pioneer’s security staff in Iowa detected suspicious activity including Chinese men crawling around in cornfields. They alerted the FBI, which began an investigation that included planting GPS monitors on rental cars and tapping cellphones.

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