A Chinese scientist was sentenced to 121 months in federal prison for trying to steal samples of a variety of rice seeds from a Kansas bio-pharma research lab.
Weiqiang Zhang, 51, a Chinese national and U.S. legal permanent living in Manhattan, Kansas, was sentenced last week by U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Murguia in the District of Kansas.
Zhang was convicted in February 2017 of one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property.
He worked as a rice breeder for Ventria Bioscience in Junction City, Kansas. The company develops genetically programmed rice used in the therapeutic and medical fields.
Zhang holds a master’s degree in agriculture from Shengyang Agricultural University in China and a doctorate degree from Louisiana State University.
He stole hundreds of rice seeds produced by Ventria and stored them at his house in Manhattan.
Ventria used locked doors with magnetic card readers to restrict access to the temperature-controlled environment where the seeds were stored and processed.
In the summer of 2013, a delegation from a crop research institute in China visited Zhang at his home in Manhattan. Zhang took the visitors on tours of facilities in Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio.
When Zhang’s visitors were leaving the United States for China in August 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found seeds belonging to Ventria in their luggage.
“Ventria spent millions of dollars and years of research” developing its seeds and methods to extract proteins from the rice. The proteins are used to develop human serum albumin, contained in blood, and lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein found in human milk.
The DOJ’s John Cronin said “Weiqiang Zhang betrayed his employer by unlawfully providing its proprietary rice seeds to representatives of a Chinese crop institute.”
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.