A Chinese-born former Coca-Cola chemist has been sentenced to 14 years in prison in the US for stealing trade secrets for China.
A Tennessee federal jury found You Xiaorong guilty of trade secret theft, wire fraud, economic espionage and other charges related to the manufacture of coatings inside drink cans that are made without the use of bisphenol-A (BPA).
You allegedly stole the trade secrets to start her own BPA-free coating company in China but prosecutors said she intended to aid the Chinese government.
“Stealing technology isn’t just a crime against a company,” acting assistant director Bradley Benavides of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said in a statement. “It’s a crime against American workers whose jobs and livelihoods are impacted.”
Last year, You was convicted in a 13-day jury trial. “As the evidence at trial showed, the defendant stole valuable trade secrets and intended to use them to benefit not only a foreign company, but also the government of China,” US assistant attorney general Matthew Olsen said.
“Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of this offence, as well as the Department of Justice’s commitment to protect our nation’s security by investigating and prosecuting those who steal US companies’ intellectual property,” added Olsen, who works for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, You stole valuable trade secrets related to formulations for BPA-free coatings for the inside of beverage cans.
Potential Health Risks
BPA was once commonly used to coat the inside of cans and other food and beverage containers to help minimise flavour loss and prevent the container from corroding or reacting with the food or beverage in it.
However, due to BPA’s potential health risks, companies began searching for BPA-free alternatives.
You was granted access to the BPA-free compound trade secrets while working at Coca-Cola in Atlanta and Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee.
The stolen trade secrets were the intellectual property of major chemical and coating companies including Akzo-Nobel, BASF, Dow Chemical, PPG, Toyochem, Sherwin Williams and Eastman, and cost nearly $120 million to develop.
You and her Chinese corporate partner, Weihai Jinhong Group, received millions of dollars in Chinese government grants to support the new company, the prosecution said.
You was a recipient of grants in China’s Thousand Talents. Prosecutors said she intended to benefit not only Weihai Jinhong Group, but also the governments of China, Shandong province, Weihai city and the Chinese Communist Party.
- George Russell