THEFT TARGET: Bumpers Rice Research Center in Stuttgart.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock today announced federal charges against two rice researchers from China who allegedly conspired to steal rice production technology, a scheme that included contacts in Arkansas.

Liu Xuejun, 49, and Sun Yue, 36, were charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets and conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property.


An indictment returned Friday said they were involved in the theft of rice seeds to be used in medicine. They were developed by Ventria Bioscience to produce proteins used in medicine and drugs.

The government news release said Ventria, which is headquartered in Colorado and has a rice production facility in Kansas, had invested $75 million in developing the intellectual property behind these rice seeds.


Said the release:

Liu and Sun visited the United States in 2013. At that time, they both worked at the Crops Research Institute in Tianjin, China. Liu was a professor, and Sun was a research associate. They came to the United States to visit several rice research and production facilities, and their visit included a stop at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart.

Their trip was organized by Weiqiang Zhang, who was a rice breeder at Ventria in Kansas, and Wengui Yan, who worked at the Dale Bumpers Rice Research Center in Stuttgart. When Liu and Sun ended their trip, they flew to Honolulu, Hawaii, on their way back to China. At the Honolulu airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen rice seeds in Liu and Sun’s luggage, including seeds from the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center as well as seeds from the Ventria rice production facility in Kansas.

The researchers who helped organize Liu and Sun’s trip were convicted of their involvement in the scheme in a connected case in Kansas. Zhang, 47, was convicted at trial and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Yan, 63, who worked in Stuttgart, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison.