The United States charges a former Apple employee with attempting to steal technology and flee to China

Written by Sarah N. Lynch, David Shepherdson, and Karen Freifield

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday announced charges in five cases related to alleged efforts to steal technology for China, Russia and Iran, including a former Apple engineer accused of targeting the company’s technology on self-driving systems, including self-driving cars. Then flee to China.

Cases detailed at a Justice Department press conference centered on allegations of theft of trade secrets and other technology. Two cases involved what U.S. officials described as procurement networks set up to help the Russian military and intelligence services obtain sensitive technology.

The five cases are the first reported by the US “strike force”, which was formed in February to protect sensitive technologies, although investigations began before it was set up.

“We stand vigilant in enforcing US laws to stem the flow of sensitive technologies to our foreign adversaries,” Matt Olsen, the justice department’s chief of national security, told reporters. “We are committed to doing everything we can to prevent these advanced tools from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries.”

The former Apple engineer, identified as 35-year-old Weibao Wang, previously resided in Mountain View, California, and was hired by Apple in 2016, according to the April indictment unsealed Tuesday. .

In 2017, he accepted a job in the US with a Chinese company developing self-driving cars before resigning from Apple, but waited about four months before informing Apple of his new job, according to the indictment.

After his last day at Apple, the Justice Department said, the company discovered he had accessed large amounts of proprietary data in the days leading up to his departure. It added that federal agents searched his home in June 2018 and found “large amounts” of data from Apple. The department said that shortly after the search, he boarded a plane for China.

Apple’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have gone uneven since 2014, when the company began designing a car from scratch. A December report said Apple had pushed back the planned launch of the vehicle to 2026. Reports filed with the state of California show that Apple is testing the vehicles on the state’s roads.

Apple declined to comment on the case.

In a second case involving China, U.S. prosecutors announced charges against Liming Li, 64, of Rancho Cucamonga, California, for allegedly stealing trade secrets from his California employers to build his competing company in China.

New York prosecutors charged Nikolaos “Nikos” Pogonikolos, 49, of Greece with smuggling US-origin military technologies to Russia while working as a defense contractor for NATO.

Russian nationals Oleg Sergeyevich Batsulia and Vasily Sergeyevich Besedin have been charged in Arizona for allegedly using their Florida-based company to send aircraft parts to Russian airlines, while the Trade Ministry in a parallel measure suspended their export concessions.

In addition, New York prosecutors announced charges against Xiangjiang Qiao, also known as Joe Hansen, 39, for allegedly using a Chinese company targeted by US sanctions to supply materials used in the production of weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

US officials said Qiao and Wang remain at large in China, while the four other suspects have been arrested.

Attorneys for Patzulia and Besedien, who were arrested on May 11, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lee’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to determine who represented Pogonikolos.

(Reporting by David Shepherdson, Karen Freyfield and Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Rami Ayoub; Editing by Will Dunham)

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