Des Moines — A Chinese National pleaded guilty this week in federal court to conspiring to steal trade secrets involving inbred corn seeds produced by DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose of the Southern District accepted the guilty plea of Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, 46, on Wednesday. Hailong admitted to participating in a long term conspiracy to steal trade secrets from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.
Hailong was first arrested near a Pioneer Hi-Bred facility field outside of Dysart in Tama County, according to court documents.
Hailong, who became a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., also admitted in the plea agreement to participating in the theft of inbred corn seeds from fields in the Southern District of Iowa for the purpose of transporting the seeds to China. The stolen inbred, or parent, seeds were the valuable intellectual property of the seed companies, the documents state.
During the course of the conspiracy, Hailong was employed as the director of International Business of the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company, commonly referred to as DBN, according to the federal indictment filed in 2013. DBN is a Chinese conglomerate with a corn seed subsidiary company, Kings Nower Seed.
The investigation was initiated when DuPont Pioneer security staff detected suspicious activity and alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When federal officials first made the case public, they called it the first corporate agriculture espionage case of its kind in Iowa.
The estimated loss of an inbred line of seed is about five to eight years of research and a minimum of $30 million to $40 million, according to the indictment.
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The indictment, filed against Hailong and six other Chinese nationals, alleges the conspiracy started in April 2011 and continued through December 2012, court documents show.
Hailong mailed the seeds to Florida and to China, according to the indictment. He also is accused of planting another group of seeds on farmland that he purchased.
Hailong’s sister, Mo Yun, who is also the wife of Shao Genhuo, the chairman of Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., was also charged in the conspiracy but those charges were dismissed last summer.
Prosecutors asked the court to dismiss charges of conspiracy to steal trade secrets and conspiracy to transport stolen property filed against Yun after the court ruled instant messages couldn’t be used in the trial. The messages, prosecutors said, were a significant part of their case against Yun.
Hailong also will forfeit his farmland property, which was used to commit or aid in the crime, as part of the plea deal. The farmland is in Will County, Ill., consisting of about 40 acres, and property in Redfield, Iowa, documents show.
Hailong faces five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date hasn’t been set.
The other defendants charged in the case are pending trials.