U.S. authorities were able to lure an accused Chinese spy to Belgium and later extradited him to the United States on charges he tried to steal secrets from defense aviation firms, including GE Aviation, one of this region’s biggest employers.
In an federal indictment released Wednesday by the U.S. Justice Department, Yanjun Xu was identified as an officer with the Chinese Ministry of State Security, Justice Department officials said.
“This case is not an isolated incident,” Assistant Attorney General Demers said. “It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense. We cannot tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow.”
Added U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman in the same release: “Innovation in aviation has been a hallmark of life and industry in the United States since the Wright brothers first designed gliders in Dayton more than a century ago.”
GE Aviation is headquartered in Evendale and employs around 9,000 in the region, including 1,300 employees at three Dayton locations.
The Justice Department said that Xu is deputy division director with the Chinese intelligence agency MSS’s Jiangsu State Security Department, Sixth Bureau.
“MSS has broad powers in China to conduct espionage both domestically and abroad,” the government said.
Also known as Qu Hui and Zhang Hui, Xu faces two counts each of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets, Justice officials and other federal authorities said in Cincinnati.
It is thought to be the first time that an accused Chinese government spy has been brought to the United States to face charges, the Washington Post said.
The investigation has been ongoing for more than a year, Glassman told Cincinnati TV station WCPO. He said a GE Aviation employee met with Xu in China and continued to communicate with him after returning to the U.S.
Authorities arrested Xu in Belgium in April. He was then indicted by a federal grand jury in Southern Ohio before being extradited, the news station reported.
Xu is expected to go on trial in federal court in Cincinnati.
The maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy and attempt to commit economic espionage is 15 years of incarceration, the government said. The maximum for conspiracy and attempt to commit theft of trade secrets is 10 years.
Our Cincinnati news partner, WCPO, said it first reported the investigation based on a sealed affidavit filed by an FBI agent.