A Chinese national who formerly worked as an imaging scientist at Monsanto in Missouri, US, been sentenced to more than two years in prison under a now-defunct anti-espionage initiative.
Xiang Haitao pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage in January. He had admitted to stealing trade secrets from Monsanto to benefit China, and had faced up to 15 years behind bars and a maximum fine of $5 million. On 7 April, he received a 29-month prison sentence, followed by three years of supervised release and a $150,000 (£115,200) fine.
Xiang was prosecuted under the US government’s controversial China Initiative, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) terminated in February amid mounting concerns that it racially profiled researchers and harmed the country’s scientific enterprise. The programme aimed to crack down on trade secret theft and economic espionage.
Xiang worked for Monsanto and its subsidiary, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017. Together, the companies developed a digital, online software platform that helped farmers collect, store and visualise agricultural field data and enhance productivity. Copies of a critical component of the platform – a proprietary predictive algorithm – were later found on electronic devices in Xiang’s baggage when he was at an airport in June 2017, attempting to travel to China on a one-way ticket.
Xiang’s sentencing came the same day as the conviction of University of Kansas chemist Feng ‘Franklin’ Tao for wire fraud and making false statements. A date for Tao’s sentencing has not yet been set.
Former Harvard University chemistry department chair Charles Lieber, who also was tried under the China Initiative, was convicted in December on felony charges for lying about his links to China’s Wuhan University of Technology. He also still awaits sentencing, facing a maximum of 26 years in prison and $1.2 million in fines.