Hao Zhang, a 41-year-old man of Chinese origin, was convicted on Friday, June 26, of stealing U.S. trade secrets with the intention of selling them to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“The defendant plotted with Tianjin University to take trade secrets from two U.S. companies, including his own employer, to China for the benefit of the Chinese government,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
Zhang is charged with conspiring with a colleague at the University of Southern California to sell U.S. secrets from leaking cellphone signals to the CCP and military.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, the indictment against Zhang could lead to a prison sentence of up to 15 years for economic espionage and another 10 years for theft of trade secrets.
The professor’s illegal activities revolve around two U.S. companies, Skyworks Solutions Inc., based in Woburn, Massachusetts, and Avago Technologies Ltd., based in San Jose, California. Both companies are involved in the development of technologies applied to military systems.
“Today’s guilty verdict on all counts is an important step in holding accountable an individual who robbed his U.S. employer of trade secrets and sought to replicate the company’s technology and replace its market share. The Department of Justice’s commitment to prosecuting these cases should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone considering doing the same,” the statement said.
As the Daily Mail noted, while Zhang was earning his doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of California, he met Wei Pang, with whom he developed research on acoustic technology aimed at limiting interference in the reception of mobile phones and making them safer.
After graduating in 2006, Zhang got a job at Skyworks, while his colleague Pang was hired at Avago.
Both later returned to China, became professors at the prestigious Tianjin University, and began working on the technology secrets they had usurped while working for American companies.
They then took control of the patents in the United States and China and tried to market them to the Chinese military through a shell company located in the Cayman Islands, as reported by the Daily Mail.
Zhang’s sentencing is expected to take place on Aug. 31 before Judge Edward J. Davila, who is in charge of prosecuting the case, in San Jose.
According to the Justice Department, in May 2015 six people were also charged with economic espionage and theft of trade secrets in the United States for the CCP.
By then, in a statement, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said, “According to the charges in the indictment, the defendants leveraged their access to and knowledge of sensitive U.S. technologies to illegally obtain and share U.S. trade secrets with [the CCP] for economic advantage.”