In recent years, US law enforcement officials have urged agriculture executives and security officers to increase their vigilance and report suspicious activity involving farm products, citing a growing economic and national security threat to the sector.
Liu and Sun travelled to the United States to visit rice research and production facilities, including those in Arkansas and Kansas, US officials said. On their way back to China, US customs agents found stolen rice seeds in their luggage, they said.
The seeds were engineered by a company named Ventria Bioscience to contain certain proteins that can be removed from the rice and used in medicines and pharmaceutical products.
“It is important that this intellectual property be respected and protected from would-be thieves in order for Ventria to sustain itself and continue to thrive as a business,” Scott Deeter, Ventria’s chief executive officer, told Reuters in an email.
The researchers’ trip was organised by two other agricultural scientists from China, Weiqiang Zhang and Wengui Yan, according to prosecutors. Zhang and Yan, who were working in the United States, have previously been convicted in connection with the case and sentenced to prison.
“We remain vigilant in our efforts at protecting both intellectual and real property from theft by other nations,” said Cody Hiland, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.