Public Safety

Chinese national sentenced in seed conspiracy

Judge orders three years in prison for conspiracy to steal trade secrets

A farmer harvests corn from a field near Cedar Rapids on Saturday, October 18, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
A farmer harvests corn from a field near Cedar Rapids on Saturday, October 18, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A Chinese national who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to steal trade secrets involving corn seeds produced by DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose ordered Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, 46, to serve 36 months imprisonment for conspiracy to steal trade secrets, according to Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin and Kevin VanderSchel, U.S. attorney for Iowa’s southern district.

Hailong also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following his time in prison and was ordered to pay restitution in an amount to be determined at a later date.

In addition, the judge ordered the forfeiture of two farms — in Iowa and Illinois — that were purchased and utilized by Hailong and others during the course of the conspiracy.

According to court documents, Hailong was employed as the director of International Business of the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., commonly referred to as DBN — a Chinese conglomerate with a corn seed subsidiary company, Kings Nower Seed.

According to the plea agreement entered Jan. 27, Hailong — a Chinese national who became a lawful permanent U.S. resident — admitted to participating in a long-term conspiracy to steal trade secrets from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.

Hailong first was arrested near a Pioneer Hi-Bred facility field near Dysart in Tama County, court records show. Hailong participated in the theft of inbred corn seeds from fields in the southern district of Iowa and elsewhere for the purpose of transporting the seeds to DBN in China, according to court records. The stolen inbred, or parent, seeds were the valuable trade secrets of DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.

The investigation was initiated when DuPont Pioneer security staff detected suspicious activity and alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation. DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto were fully cooperative throughout the investigation, according to federal authorities.

“Theft of trade secrets is a serious federal crime, as it harms victim companies that have invested millions of dollars and years of work toward the development of propriety technology,” VanderSchel said in a statement. “The theft of agricultural trade secrets, and other intellectual property, poses a grave threat to our national economic security.”

The estimated loss of an inbred line of seed is put at about five to eight years of research and at least $30 million to $40 million, the indictment showed. The indictment, filed against Hailong and six other Chinese nationals, alleges the conspiracy started in April 2011 and continued through December 2012. 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 he purchased. Hailong’s sister, Mo Yun, who is the wife of Shao Genhuo, chairman of Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., also was charged in the conspiracy, but those charges were dismissed last summer.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.