Imaging scientist faces fines and prison for digital agriculture technology theft

Chinese national Xiang Haitao, who worked almost 10 years as an imaging scientist for Monsanto and then a subsidiary in Missouri, US, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage on 6 January. Xiang, who admitted to stealing trade secrets from Monsanto to benefit China, faces up to 15 years in prison and a $5 million (£3.7 million) fine. He is scheduled to be sentenced on 7 April.

While employed by Monsanto and then the Climate Corporation from 2008 to 2017, Xiang was involved in developing a digital, online software platform to help farmers collect, store and visualise critical field data to increase productivity. He was arrested in June 2017, and a grand jury in Missouri indicted him in November 2019.

The day after Xiang left his job, he was heading to China on a one-way ticket, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). When federal officials searched him at the airport, they found electronic devices containing copies of Monsanto intellectual property. Xiang travelled on to China and worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute for Soil Science. He was arrested when he returned to the US.