A Chinese intelligence officer was convicted in a US federal court on Friday of economic espionage charges in a Beijing-backed attempt to steal technology from US and French airlines, the US Justice Department said.
Xu Yangun, an official with the Foreign Intelligence Bureau of the Jiangsu Provincial Ministry of State Security, was convicted in Cincinnati court on two counts of conspiracy and attempted economic espionage and three counts of stealing trade secrets.
Economic espionage carries a maximum penalty of 15 years for each count and a fine of up to $5 million, while other charges carry a prison sentence of 10 years.
Xu was one of 11 Chinese nationals, including two intelligence officers, named in the October 2018 indictments for participating in a five-year plan to steal technology from Cincinnati-based GE Aviation, one of the world’s major aircraft engine manufacturers. The French Safran Group, which was working with General Electric on developing the engine.
“Xu attempted to steal technology related to the aircraft’s engine propeller made exclusively by General Electric Aviation, which no other company in the world has been able to replicate, for the benefit of the Chinese state,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
The statement added that Xu, using various pseudonyms, “identified the experts who worked in the companies and recruited them to travel to China.”
He was arrested in April 2018 in Belgium, where he was apparently lured into a counterintelligence operation – he was planning to secretly meet a GE employee on the trip.
He was extradited to the United States in October 2018 to stand trial.
2018 allegations said 10 other accomplices in the operation, including two Jiangsu security officials said to work for Xu, six hackers and two employees of the French company.
None of those ten were arrested.
The allegations detail efforts to use malware and phishing techniques to infiltrate targeted computers and erase data on drives and parts.
The Justice Department said at the time that a Chinese state-owned airline was trying to develop an engine like General Electric for use in Chinese-made aircraft.
After Xu’s arrest, China said the US was “making something out of nothing”.
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