In the latest in a flurry of industrial espionage cases, a Michigan couple has been accused of stealing $40 million worth of trade secrets from General Motors and selling them to a Chinese car maker.
Shashan Du, 51, and her husband Yu Qin, 49, appeared in federal court on Thursday for arraignment on charges punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and heavy fines upon conviction.
The couple, who have been under investigation since 2006, is charged with four crimes including conspiracy to possess trade secrets without authorization, unauthorized possession of trade secrets, and wire fraud.
The industry documents allegedly stolen and sold involved GM's research into its hybrid vehicles, according to court documents. GM estimates the value of the stolen documents to be close to $40 million.
"We've unfortunately had a few of these incidents occur over the past few years," Sandra Berchtold of the FBI Detroit office told ABC News. "Michigan is a big area of growing technology, especially in the automotive industry."
According to the federal indictment obtained by ABC News, between December 2003 to May 2006, Du, a former GM employee, allegedly uploaded a confidential GM document entitled "Hybrid Electric Drive System" and saved thousands of pages of sensitive GM trade information relating to hybrid vehicles onto a hard drive.
Du then allegedly used her GM email account to relay the information to her husband Qin, who is accused of using it to benefit Millennium Technology International Inc., a company the couple owns together.
Months later, Qin supposedly approached Chery Automobile, a China-based automotive manufacturer and GM competitor, to sell the new the hybrid technology.
The alleged theft forced GM to upgrade its security system.
The federal indictment further includes that "in light of the sensitivity and value of information relating to its hybrid vehicle development, GM took reasonable measures to protect and keep secret such information, including restricting access to this information, maintaining electronic and physical security features, training employees on information security measures, marking documents with proprietary warnings, and requiring the execution on non-disclosure agreements by employees and suppliers."
U.S. Says It Won't Tolerate Industrial Espionage
U.S. District Attorney Barbara McQuade said, "As our auto industry works to find new areas of innovation, such as hybrid technology, we will not tolerate the theft of our trade secrets from foreign competitors. We will aggressively prosecute people who steal from the investment that our auto industry has made in research and development."
Attorneys for Du and Qin did not return calls for comment.