An ex-Monsanto scientist and Chinese national has received a 29-month prison sentence for conspiring to commit economic espionage.

Xiang Haitao had pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2022 in federal court in Missouri, the Justice Department said. His sentence also includes three years of supervised release and a $150,000 fine.

Xiang, according to court documents, conspired to steal a trade secret from The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, “for the purpose of benefiting a foreign government, namely the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” DOJ said.

Xiang flew to China the day after he stopped working for Monsanto in June 2017. But while waiting to board his flight, federal officials searched him and his baggage.

They “later determined that one of Xiang’s electronic devices contained copies of the Nutrient Optimizer,” which DOJ called “a proprietary predictive algorithm” that was a key components of the Climate Corp.’s digital, online farming software platform. 

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"Xiang continued on to China where he worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science," DOJ said. He had begun working for Monsanto, since bought by Bayer, in 2008, and had lived in Chesterfield, Mo.

“Xiang conspired to steal an important trade secret to gain an unfair advantage for himself and the PRC,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of DOJ’s National Security Division said.

“The defendant took advantage of living and working in the United States to steal a valuable trade secret for the benefit of PRC entities,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of DOJ’s Criminal Division said. “This type of theft threatens employers large and small in every state, and it imperils our economic competitiveness as a nation.”

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