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Originally published November 5, 2012 at 8:31 PM | Page modified November 5, 2012 at 8:43 PM

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Trial starts for couple accused of stealing GM secrets for use in China

A former GM engineer and her husband used confidential data to seek business ventures or employment with GM's competitors, including the Chinese automaker Chery Automobile, the U.S. said. General Motors contends the stolen secrets are worth more than $40 million.

Bloomberg News

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DETROIT — A former General Motors engineer and her husband stole trade secrets of the automaker's related to hybrid technology to help develop such vehicles in China, a U.S. prosecutor said Monday at the start of their trial.

Shanshan Du, the ex-GM employee, allegedly copied private information on the motor control of hybrids and provided documents to her husband, Yu Qin.

Qin used the confidential data to seek business ventures or employment with GM's competitors, including the Chinese automaker Chery Automobile, the U.S. said. General Motors contends the stolen secrets are worth more than $40 million, prosecutors said.

"This case is about theft as well as deceit," prosecutor Michael Martin said in federal court in Detroit in opening statements.

The defendants' lawyers said the items weren't trade secrets and were "completely useless" for other companies. "A lot of fear is going on in this case," said Frank Eaman, Qin's lawyer.

This includes fear of Chinese people working in U.S. companies and planning ventures in China, as well as the defendants' fear of the police, he said.

The case is one of more than a dozen brought in the past three years by the Justice Department alleging defendants of Chinese ancestry or citizenship sought to take trade secrets from U.S. companies for use by the Chinese government or businesses.

Last month in Chicago, a former software engineer for the CME Group, the world's largest derivative exchange, pleaded guilty to charges of downloading more than 10,000 files containing source code from his employer to support trading activities in an exchange in China.

In September in Newark, N.J., a native of China who worked for L-3 Communications' Space & Navigation division was convicted of transporting stolen property and possession of trade secrets related to precision navigation devices.

In the Detroit case, Du and Qin were indicted in 2010 on three counts each of trade theft and wire fraud. Qin was also charged with obstruction of justice. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The U.S. alleges that Du, an electrical engineer who worked at GM from 2000 to 2005, sought assignment to the company's hybrid work project to gain access to information on the motor control of such vehicles.

The U.S. claims Du began providing GM documents to her husband for use in a company they had started, Millennium Technology International.

Du copied material and Qin developed a plan to sell hybrid-vehicle technology through a joint venture in China, the U.S. said.

The process accelerated after GM sought Du's resignation in January 2005, according to the indictment.

Martin said in his opening statement that 16,262 GM files were found on Du's computer.

After Du left the company, the couple uploaded GM documents containing secret information onto a computer at their home, the U.S. claimed.

General Motors was informed by Qin's employer, Controlled Power, in 2005 that its workers discovered a bag with an internal hard drive containing electronic documents that appeared to be the property of GM, according to a federal appeals-court decision in July on evidence in the case.

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