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Chinese National Pleads Guilty in Theft of Monsanto Algorithm

Federal officials found Xiang Haitao in possession of copies of a proprietary predictive algorithm as he was waiting to board a flight to China 

Xiang Haitao was employed by Monsanto and a subsidiary from 2008 to 2017. Monsanto was taken over by Bayer, the German chemical company, in 2018. Photo: Reuters


A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Thursday in a US federal court to a charge of conspiring to steal trade secrets from agricultural company Monsanto to benefit the Chinese government, the US Justice Department said.

Xiang Haitao, who was employed by Monsanto and a subsidiary from 2008 to 2017, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 7, the department said in a statement. He faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Federal officials found Xiang in possession of copies of a proprietary predictive algorithm developed by Monsanto as he was waiting to board a flight to China in June 2017, according to the statement.

He was allowed to depart to resume his work at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science.  Xiang was arrested when he returned to the US, the statement said.

The case follows that of Charles Lieber, a Harvard professor convicted on charges that he lied about his ties to a China-run recruitment programme in a closely-watched case stemming from a crackdown on Chinese influence within US research.

A federal jury in Boston found Charles Lieber, a renowned nanoscientist and the former chairman of Harvard’s chemistry and chemical biology department, guilty of making false statements to authorities, filing false tax returns and failing to report a Chinese bank account.

Prosecutors alleged that Lieber, in his quest for a Nobel Prize, in 2011 agreed to become a “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology in China and participated in a Chinese recruitment drive called the Thousand Talents Programme.


  • Reuters with additional editing by George Russell





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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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