It took over two years of police work to build up an espionage charge against six individuals who alleged stole agricultural secrets for a Chinese Conglomerate DBN.
Hailong Robert Mo was found kneeing in an unmarked corn field near Tama, Iowa digging freshly planted seeds, with a getaway car waiting, on May 3, 2011. A field manager of DuPont Pioneer questioned Mo, but he was able to get away fast. The car's license plate was traced back to Mo. Monsanto also reported suspicious activity. FBI agents were alerted during a routine site visit on June 30, 2011. An investigation was initiated in September 2011.
It turned out a team of 'Asian males' had been travelling extensively through Midwestern farm belt states, visiting farmers who had been contracted with seeds companies DuPont, Monsanto and LG to plant bio-engineered corns. Mo would be stopped again four months later checking out an unmarked Monsanto test field by Polk County (Iowa) Sheriff's Deputy.
In February 2012, FBI was expecting Mo to accompany visiting Chinese leader Xi Jinping on an agricultural tour but could not locate Mo by surveillance they set up at the Des Moines airport. Later, FBI was notified by Pioneer security team that Mo was found at their headquarters with the tour, using an assumed name of Wu Hougang, Chairman of Dalian Zhangzidao Fishery Group. FBI was able to locate Mo several hours later in a tour of a Monsanto facility in Ankeny, Iowa. Later that evening, Mo attended the state dinner hosted by the Iowa Governor for Xi. The next day, Mo would attend an agriculture conference with the same assumed name Wu. Mo was seen meeting with former Pioneer employee whose wife was an active Pioneer corn geneticist researcher.
FBI recorded a revealing conversation between two DBN employees Ye Jian and Lin Young, when they were traveling in a rental car in the US.
Ye: You can forget about ever coming to the US again... Isn't that ruining an individual's future?
Lin: I don't think it's that simple. I actually studied the law.
Ye: They could treat us as spies.
Lin: Trespassing, theft/larceny, IP. All criminal offences... not just blocking us from visiting.
Lin: Dr. Li actually knows clearly, he knows. When the seed operation was launched, he was in charge of the legal side.
Lin: My family just has no clue what I am doing here. My oldman asked me what you guys are doing staying in the US for so long? What can I say? Can't say anything.
Lin: I don't really want to come to the US anyway.
Ye: So [sigh]. The company can't afford the legal cost.
Lin: Taking things from the property is theft... Nowadays the US is very hostile to China on this matter. If this time they opt to -
Ye: [Deep sigh]
Lin: I mentioned it to Dr. Li that I don't agree on running this project for such a long time.
Ye: The longer the time is, the more likely we get in trouble.
Lin: My point is that the outcome doesn't justify the effort we put in. We take such a huge risk, for such a long time, just to get some duplicates. From decision-making standpoint, I think it's not. Dr. Li's personality tends to go extreme.
FBI observed a meeting of Mo, Ye, Li and 'Hongwei Wang' September 2012. US Border Patrol found in checked bags of luggage of Ye and Li to China what appears to be factory-sealed microwave popcorn boxes. Upon opening the boxes, on top were popcorn package, but inside each box were approximately 100 small manila envelops with corn seeds. USCBP found additional napkins with corn seeds in Ye's pockets when Ye was awaiting for his flight. Approximately the same time, Boarder Patrol at a Canadian border found 44 bags of corn seeds in Hongwei's car hidden under his seat and in his luggage. Hundreds of pictures of corn fields and Monsanto and Pioneer tours were found in Hongwei's digital camera.
The criminal complaint was violation of 1832 (theft of intellectual property). The case was US v. Mo on trial in the Southern District of Iowa 4:2013-cr-00147-RP-CFB-002. Mo pleaded not guilty.
DBN is a publicaly traded company at Shenzhen Exchange with a market value of 25.66 billion RMB ($4 billion). The Chairperson of DBN is Mr. Shao Genhuo, a self-made billionaire with a net worth of $1.45 billion (#90 China Rich List).