The FBI has filed charges against Chinese national Mo Hailong, known also as Robert Mo, for allegedly conspiring to steal trade secrets in the form of parent lines of high-value seeds from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.
A criminal complaint containing an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Mark Betten, linked here as a .pdf file, unfolds like a spy thriller.
Some key dates from Betten’s affidavit:
May 3, 2011: Mo is caught by a Pioneer field manager on his knees in a corn field near Tama, Iowa with another suspect, Wang Lei, in a nearby car. When confronted, Mo claims he is working with the University of Iowa. The manager’s phone rings and Mo and Wang flee by driving through a ditch.
September 27, 2011: Mo mails 15 packages from West Des Moines to himself at a Florida address. Together the packages weigh almost 350 pounds and incur shipping charges of $1,152.97.
February 15, 2012: Mo uses an alias (“Hougang Wu”) at Pioneer’s Carver Campus in Johnston during a tour with other visitors. Hours later an FBI surveillance team finds him touring a Monsanto research facility in Ankeny. That evening, Mo attends a state dinner hosted by Governor Terry Branstad for China’s Vice President.
April 26, 2012: FBI agents observe Mo spending time at a farm in Monee, Illinois. Later investigation would show that the same parcel of land belongs to Chinese firm Kings Nower Seed, who bought it for $600,000 the previous month. Mo is believed to be an employee of Kings Nower Seed’s parent company, DBN Group.
May 1, 2012: Mo is seen purchasing six bags of DeKalb (Monsanto) brand corn at MFA Agri Services in Pattonsburg, Missouri, after having done the same with Pioneer corn at Crossroads Ag in Dallas Center the day before. Mo then drives to a storage locker facility near Adel and unloads the seed.
September 30, 2012: US Customs and Border Protection officials discover over 30 Subway napkins, each containing individual corn kernels, as well as rewrapped boxes of microwave popcorn concealing loose corn kernels in the luggage of two other suspects, Ye Jian and Li Shaoming, both of whom were awaiting a China-bound plane in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
According to Betten’s affidavit, Pioneer executives estimate possible costs from the loss of an inbred seed line at 5-8 years of research and at least $30-$40 million in revenue.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says he’s awaiting the Chinese government’s response to the allegations of agricultural espionage.
“One of the ways to prove that they respect property rights,” Northey says, “would be to completely cooperate with this investigation, and to help the FBI and others.”
Northey says the Iowa Department of Agriculture is not involved in the investigation of Mo’s activities.