DuPont Trade Secrets to China – On March 5, 2014, a federal jury in the Northern District of California found two individuals and one company guilty of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, bankruptcy fraud, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice for their roles in a long-running effort to obtain U.S. trade secrets for the benefit of companies controlled by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The jury found that Walter Lian-Heen Liew (aka Liu Yuanxuan), his company, USA Performance Technology, Inc. (USAPTI), and Robert Maegerle conspired to steal trade secrets and commit economic espionage from E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (DuPont) regarding their chloride-route titanium dioxide production technology and sold those secrets for large sums of money to state-owned companies of the PRC. The purpose of their conspiracy was to help those companies develop large-scale chloride-route titanium dioxide production capability in the PRC, including a planned 100,000-ton titanium dioxide factory in Chongqing. This case marks the first jury conviction for economic espionage (18 U.S.C. Section 1831). Liew was convicted of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, attempted economic espionage, attempted theft of trade secrets, possession of trade secrets, conveying trade secrets, conspiracy to obstruct justice, witness tampering, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, false statements, filing false tax returns for USAPTI and Performance Group, a predecessor company to USAPTI, and false statements and oaths in bankruptcy proceedings.
Liew was an owner and president of USAPTI, a company headquartered in Oakland, Calif., that offered consulting services. USAPTI was found guilty of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, attempted economic espionage, attempted theft of trade secrets, possession of trade secrets, conveying trade secrets, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Evidence at trial showed that in the 1990s, Liew met with the government of the PRC and was informed that the PRC had prioritized the development of chloride-route titanium dioxide (TiO2) technology.
TiO2 is a commercially valuable white pigment with numerous uses, including coloring paint, plastics, and paper. DuPont’s TiO2 chloride-route process also produces titanium tetrachloride, a material with military and aerospace uses. Liew was aware that DuPont had developed industry leading TiO2 technology over many years of research and development and assembled a team of former DuPont employees, including Maegerle, to assist him in his efforts to convey DuPont’s TiO2 technology to entities in the PRC. Liew executed contracts with state-owned entities of the PRC for chloride-route TiO2 projects that relied on the transfer of illegally obtained DuPont technology. Liew, Maegerle, and USAPTI obtained and sold DuPont’s TiO2 trade secret to the Pangang Group companies for more than $20 million. Maegerle was convicted of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, attempted theft of trade secrets, conveying trade secrets, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Evidence at trial showed that Maegerle was employed by DuPont as an engineer from 1956 to 1991 where he had developed detailed knowledge of DuPont’s TiO2 technology and expertise in building TiO2 production lines. He also had access to DuPont TiO2 trade secrets, including specific information regarding DuPont’s TiO2 facility at Kuan Yin, Taiwan. He provided these trade secrets to Liew and USAPTI in furtherance of their contracts with state-owned companies of the PRC for chloride-route TiO2 projects. Liew, Maegerle, and USAPTI’s obstructing justice convictions stem from causing an answer to be filed in a federal civil lawsuit in which they falsely claimed that no information from DuPont’s Kuan Yin plant was used in the USAPTI designs for the development of TiO2 manufacturing facilities. Liew’s witness tampering conviction stems from his efforts to influence a co-defendant’s testimony in the civil lawsuit. The jury also convicted Liew of conspiring with his wife, Christina Hong Qiao Liew (aka Qiao Hong) who was charged in the second superseding indictment, to mislead the FBI by corruptly concealing records, documents, and other objects during the FBI’s investigation into their criminal activity. Liew, as co-owner of USAPTI, entered into contracts worth in excess of $20 million to convey TiO2 trade secret technology to Pangang Group companies. Liew and his wife received millions of dollars of proceeds from these contracts. The proceeds were wired through the United States, Singapore, and ultimately back into several bank accounts in the PRC in the names of relatives of Christina Liew. DuPont is a company based in Wilmington, Del., that manufactures a wide variety of products, including TiO2. DuPont invented the chloride-route process for manufacturing TiO2 in the late-1940s and since then has invested heavily in research and development to improve that production process. The global titanium dioxide market has been valued at roughly $12 billion per year, and DuPont has the largest share of that market. The chloride-route process is cleaner, more efficient, and produces a higher-quality product than the sulfate-route process prevalent in the PRC. The object of the defendants’ conspiracy was to convey DuPont’s secret chloride-route technology to the PRC companies for the purpose of building modern TiO2 production facilities in the PRC without investing in time-consuming, costly research and development. The second superseding indictment charged Christina Liew, Tze Chao (aka Zhao Zhi) and Hou Shengdong each with conspiracy to commit economic espionage. Ms. Liew was also charged with conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, attempted theft of trade secrets, possession of trade secrets, witness tampering, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, and false statements. The charges against Ms. Liew were severed from those against Walter Liew, Maegerle, and USAPTI. Ms. Liew is still awaiting trial. Chao, a former DuPont employee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage on March 1, 2012. Hou, the Vice Director of the Chloride Process TiO2 Project Department for the Pangang Group, was also charged with conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, and attempted economic espionage. He is currently a fugitive. Charges of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, and attempted economic espionage are also pending against the four PRC state-owned companies charged in the second superseding indictment. This case was investigated by the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation.