Chinese high-tech spy case inches closer to trial

Software engineer Hanjuan Jin is accused of stealing thousands of confidential documents from Motorola.

Did software engineer Hanjuan Jin, who worked at Motorola for about eight years, steal thousands of confidential and proprietary technical documents to share with competitor Lemko and the People's Republic of China?

Jin, in her late 30s, says she didn't. But U.S. federal prosecutors are going after her for allegedly sharing technical and highly-sensitive trade secrets to benefit a "foreign government, namely the People's Republic of China, specifically its military," according to the Dec. 9, 2008, indictment filed by federal prosecutors in Chicago.

While the U.S. government's legal paperwork seeks to shield identity by referring to the victim firm as simply "Company A," it's a safe bet that it's Motorola, which has its own civil lawsuit pending against Jin and cellular-equipment maker Lemko with many identical details -- though it doesn't accuse her of sharing secrets with the Chinese government.

The shroud of secrecy will officially drop once a public trial begins; federal prosecutors and Jin's attorneys are due to meet in a Chicago court next week with the expectation of setting a trial date.

The insider threat

Jin was arrested by U.S. Customs officials on Feb. 28, 2007, at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, ready to depart on a one-way ticket to China. She was carrying over 1,000 electronic and paper documents from her former employer -- she had just quit Motorola -- as well as Chinese documents for military telecommunications technology, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) affidavit filed in court as part of the case.

That's the heart of the feds' criminal lawsuit against Jin, a U.S. citizen born in China, who was released on US$50,000 bail.

But the complex, dizzying saga doesn't end there. The case also involves claims that about a half-dozen Chinese engineers downloaded proprietary documents from both Motorola and Lemko, along with source code, as they made employment leaps between the two competitors, both located in Schaumburg, Ill.

In a separate civil lawsuit filed last September by Motorola against Jin and Lemko, and in subsequent court filings, Motorola also made computer fraud and trade-theft accusations against engineers Shaowei Pan, Xiaohua Wu, Xefend Bai and Xiohong Sheng, who are said to be Chinese nationals with experience working at both Motorola and Lemko.

If that weren't enough, Lemko filed a counter-suit last October and accused Motorola of breaching an agreement between the two companies by not telling Lemko that Motorola found source code belonging to Lemko on the computer used by Sheng. Sheng is described as a former project lead engineer at Lemko who abruptly resigned on Nov. 30, 2006, and began working at Motorola shortly thereafter. Motorola terminated Sheng in July of last year.

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