For the first time, a Chinese intelligence official has been extradited to the US to face espionage charges for conspiring and attempting to steal trade secrets from multiple American aviation and aerospace companies, the Department of Justice has said.
Yanjun Xu, aka Qu Hui, aka Zhang Hui, a Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) operative, was extradited to the US on Tuesday, following which the charges were unsealed on Wednesday.
Arrested in Belgium on April 1, Xu was indicted on four counts of conspiring and attempting to commit espionage and theft of trade secrets. He was extradited to the US on Tuesday after losing his appeal.
"This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposes the Chinese government's direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States," said Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, in a statement.
The arrest of the Chinese official is the latest in relation to the theft of technology.
Xu is a Deputy Division Director with the MSS's Jiangsu State Security Department, Sixth Bureau. The MSS is the intelligence and security agency for China and is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security.
The MSS has broad powers in China to conduct espionage both domestically and abroad.
According to the indictment, beginning December 2013 and till his arrest, Xu targeted certain companies recognised as leaders in the aviation field both in and outside the United States. This included GE Aviation.
He identified experts who worked for these companies and recruited them to travel to China, often initially under the guise of asking them to deliver a university presentation.
Xu and others paid the experts' travel costs and provided stipends.
He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 15 years, the justice department said.
On Thursday in Beijing, the China's foreign ministry said that it hopes the US can deal with the matter in accordance with the law. It accused the US of "making something out of thin air".
Xu made his initial appearance Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Cincinnati, Ben Glassman, the US attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, told reporters.
Glassman said that innovation in aviation has been a hallmark of life and industry in the United States since the Wright brothers first designed gliders in Dayton more than a century ago.
"US aerospace companies invest decades of time and billions of dollars in research.
"This case shows that federal law enforcement authorities can not only detect and disrupt such espionage, but can also catch its perpetrators," Glassman added.
Assistant Attorney General John Demers said: "This indictment alleges that a Chinese intelligence officer sought to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from an American company that leads the way in aerospace."
"This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at America's expense. We cannot tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow," he said.
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