A machinist, prepares the General Electric Passport 20 engine, which powers the Bombardier Global 7000 and 8000 business jets, for testing. File Photo by Rick Goodfriend/U.S. Air Force
April 24 (UPI) -- A former General Electric engineer and a Chinese businessman have been charged with economic espionage, accused of stealing aircraft turbine designs.
A 14-count indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses the men of plotting to steal intellectual property from GE and transfer it to China, . Xiooquin Zheng, 56, of New York has been charged with stealing design models, engineering drawings and configuration files related to steam and gas turbine engines.
Zheng pleaded not guilty and was released pending trial. He worked at GE Power & Water in Schenectady, N.Y.
Zhaoxi Zhang, 47, of Liaoning Province, China, was also charged. He's believed to be in China. Zhang is Zheng's nephew and business partner.
The secrets could be worth millions of dollars.
"The indictment alleges a textbook example of the Chinese government's strategy to rob American companies of their intellectual property and to replicate their products in Chinese factories, enabling Chinese companies to replace the American company first in the Chinese market and later worldwide," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said. "We will not stand idly by while the world's second-largest economy engages in state-sponsored theft."
Michael Wessel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the technology the men were trying to steal goes "to the heart of China's deficit in turbine technology."
China hasn't been able to produce jet engines to support its own military and external commercial sales.
A few years ago, GE had a joint venture with Chinese-owned AVIC, an aerospace company. AVIC would sell its aviation software in exchange for sales of jet engines.
"Now it looks like China came back and stole what they don't want to buy," Wessel said.
The indictment accuses Zheng of stealing the secrets and emailing them to Zhang to benefit Liaoning Tianyi Aviation Technology, Nanjing Tianyi Avi Tech and other entities, including research institutes and universities. The two men are accused of receiving financial support from the Chinese companies.
"American businesses spend many hours and large amounts of money developing unique technology," FBI Assistant Director John Brown said. "When such technology is stolen, it can be devastating to U.S. businesses and can result in American workers losing their jobs. China continues to support behavior that violates the rule of law. This case demonstrates the FBI will continue to pursue China's efforts to steal American technology."