A federal jury returned guilty verdicts on Thursday in the case of a Chinese scientist, who was charged with conspiring to steal samples of a variety of rice seeds from a. According to the U.S. Justice Department this the latest attempt at agricultural theft linked to China where Weiqiang Zhang, 50, a Chinese national residing in Manhattan, Kansas, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. Zhang has a doctorate from Louisiana State University and worked as a rice breeder for Kansas-based Ventria Bioscience Inc, which develops genetically programmed rice used in the therapeutic and medical fields. He stole hundreds of rice seeds produced by Ventria and stored them at his Manhattan residence.
The trial evidence confirmed that Zhang acquired hundreds of rice seeds produced by Ventria without authorization and stored them at his residence in Manhattan. These rice seeds had a wide variety of health research applications that were developed to express either human serum albumin, contained in blood, or lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein found, for example, in human milk. Ventria used locked doors with magnetic card readers to restrict access to the temperature-controlled environment where the seeds were stored and processed. Trial evidence demonstrated that in the summer of 2013, personnel from a crop research institute in China visited Zhang at his home in Manhattan. Zhang drove the visitors to tour facilities in Iowa, Missouri and Ohio. On Aug. 7, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found seeds belonging to Ventria in the luggage of Zhang’s visitors as they prepared to leave the United States for China.