DuPont Co’s manufacturing secrets were stolen by a US businessman who provided them to a Chinese company for US$29 million, prosecutors are set to tell jurors in a trial defense lawyers say may be tainted by “China bashing.”
Walter Liew (劉元軒), a US citizen born in Malaysia who worked as an engineering consultant in California, faces conspiracy charges for allegedly stealing trade secrets from DuPont related to making white pigment used in paper, paint and plastics.
The Wilmington, Delaware-based company is the world’s largest producer of titanium dioxide, which generates global annual sales of US$14 billion.
Opening arguments were scheduled to start yesterday before a jury at a San Francisco federal court.
Liew, 56, is one of more than 20 individuals charged amid a US crackdown on industrial espionage alleged by the government to benefit China.
Liew contends that the information he used was public, not a trade secret, and his lawyer claimed that negative publicity about alleged intellectual property theft by China is “likely to inflame passion and prejudice based on race and nationality.”
Liew was “engaged in a legitimate effort to design a plant within legal boundaries,” his attorney, Stuart Gasner, said in a court filing. “A vast number of details of the DuPont process have been publicly disclosed in numerous patents, textbooks and other sources.”
Prosecutors allege that Liew, who emigrated to the US in 1980 to attend graduate school at the University of Oklahoma and became a citizen in 1992, was asked by high-level Chinese officials more than a decade ago to seek out titanium dioxide technology in the US.
In 2009, Liew, who operated the now-defunct USA Performance Technology Inc, won a contract to help China’s Pangang Group Co (攀鋼集團) design and build the world’s largest titanium dioxide plant in the Chinese city of Chongqing. The project was to use a manufacturing process first invented by DuPont in the 1940s that the company was not willing to license for use in China, prosecutors said.
Liew allegedly obtained DuPont’s trade secrets from former employees of the US company, including flow-sheets and formulas for the manufacturing process, according to an indictment.
Liew was sued by DuPont in 2011 for trade secret theft and charged with conspiracy and attempted economic espionage by US Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco. If convicted, he faces as many as 15 years in prison and possibly millions of dollars in fines.
Liew, who is from Orinda, California, about 27.4km east of San Francisco, has been in federal custody since he was arrested.
Two former DuPont employees were also charged, as was Liew’s wife, who is a Chinese citizen and will be tried separately. One of the ex-workers pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors, while the other is facing trial with Liew.
While Pangang, one of China’s largest makers of steel products and the country’s largest supplier of titanium products, was also charged in the case, prosecutors have failed to meet the legal requirements for summoning the company and its officials to face trial.