United States charges China, Taiwan firms with stealing Micron's DRAM technology

United States charges China, Taiwan firms with stealing Micron's DRAM technology

The Trump administration is stepping up its efforts to target China over economic espionage, simultaneously announcing a new initiative to combat trade theft and charges involving alleged crimes against an Idaho semiconductor company.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement with comments published on the US Justice Department's website.

A former Micron executive went to work for the Taiwan company charged in the indictment and orchestrated the theft of Micron trade secrets valued at $8.75 billion. (UMC), a Taiwanese semiconductor foundry listed on the New York Stock Exchange; and three Taiwanese nationals conspired to steal trade secrets from Micron Technology, a leading US semiconductor manufacturer.

The state-owned firm named in the indictment, Fujian Jianhua, is a Chinese semiconductor manufacturer that was already targeted by the USA earlier this week when authorities slapped a ban on U.S. exports to the company.

"I would not call [this] a cyber case", said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

The accused individuals face up to 15 years in prison and $5 million in fines, while the companies could incur up to $20 billion in financial penalties, Sessions added. UMC said it regretted not having the opportunity to discuss the matter with US authorities and will respond to the allegations accordingly, adding it expected no impact from the charges on its finances or business.

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As part of the crackdown, the Justice Department announced the indictment for the first time of a state-run Chinese company involved in a plot to steal advanced USA semiconductor technology.

Earlier this week, Fujian Jinhua was targeted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and placed on an export ban list.

The charges were the latest in a series of cases targeting what Washington calls an ongoing Beijing programme to steal valuable USA industrial and commercial secrets in order to advance the Chinese economy.

US officials have been sounding the alarm about Chinese economic espionage for some time.

China said on Friday the United States should present evidence to back up its charges. A Justice Department spokesman said the defendants were served summonses in Taiwan and that none is in USA custody.

Late in 2017, Micron took legal action in a US court against UMC charging that the Taiwanese company had stolen and copied its design and manufacturing technologies. Any U.S. companies found to be doing business with the Chinese chip company will face penalties, reports the Register.

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The attorney general said he had ordered the creation of a "China Initiative" that would identify priority Chinese trade theft cases and bring those to effective and quick conclusion.

U.S. investigators say the two, and especially Wang, downloaded and stole over 900 Micron confidential and proprietary files, which he kept on USB external hard drives and cloud storage accounts.

The Justice program is part of a multi-pronged Trump administration policy of taking action against China for unfair trade practices and technology theft. By some estimates, the cost to the USA economy is $30 billion annually.

It is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions targeting Chinese corporate espionage.

Sessions accused China of reneging on a 2015 agreement between Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama that neither country would conduct economic espionage over the internet for the objective of "providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors".

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