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A Chinese woman has been arrested and charged with trying to steal patented U.S. seed technology as part of a plot to smuggle types of specialised corn from farm fields in the US Midwest for use in China, authorities say.
The woman, Mo Yun, is married to the founder and chairman of a Chinese conglomerate that runs a corn seed subsidiary. She and her brother, Mo Hailong, who also goes by the name Robert Mo, worked together and with several others from China to steal the valuable corn seed from Iowa and Illinois, according to law enforcement officials.
Mo Yun was arrested on Tuesday (local time) in Los Angeles, while Mo Hailong was indicted and arrested in December. His trial is set for December 1. Both are charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets in US District Court in Iowa.
The conspirators dug up corn seedlings from fields and also stole mature ears of corn and also unlawfully obtained packaged corn seed, according to court documents.
At one point in 2012, Mo Hailong and other suspected co-conspirators attempted to ship about 113kg of corn seed via Federal Express to Hong Kong, according to prosecutors.
The plot also included hiding stolen corn seed in boxes of microwave popcorn packed in luggage and checked on a flight from Chicago to Beijing, China, court documents state.
Mo Hailong is director of the international business of the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co, a part of DBN Group, which is run by Shao Genhuo. DBN operates 67 different subsidiaries, including a corn seed subsidiary called Beijing Kings Nower Seed, according to Nicholas Klinefeldt, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.
Mo Yun is married to Shao Genhuo, said Klinefeldt.
Other defendants include Li Shaoming, chief operating officer of Beijing Kings Nower Seed; Wang Lei, vice chairman of Beijing Kings Nower Seed; and Ye Jian, a research manager for Beijing Kings Nower Seed, court documents show. Wang Hongwei, a resident of Canada who was born in China, is also a defendant.
Both Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer, the agricultural unit of DuPont, and Missouri-based Monsanto Co, two of the world's largest agricultural seed companies, were victims of the thefts and have said they are cooperating with federal authorities in the ongoing probe.
The investigation began after DuPont Pioneer security staff detected suspicious activity in fields where the company was testing new types of seed, and notified authorities.
Both Monsanto and DuPont develop and sell genetically altered seeds that are coveted by many farmers because they help farmers fight insect and weed problems, and can yield more in adverse growing conditions. But the seed technology is patented and the seeds are higher priced than conventional seeds.