A U.S. federal court in Cincinnati sentenced a Chinese national to 20 years in prison on Wednesday after he was convicted last year of plotting to steal trade secrets from several U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, the Justice Department said.
Xu Yanjun, the first Chinese spy extradited to the United States for trial, was convicted in Nov. 2021 by a federal jury on counts of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and trade secret theft.
Prosecutors had asked for a 25-year sentence to act as deterrent against similar actions, but Xu’s lawyers said in earlier court filings that such a sentence request exceeded those given to other people convicted of such crimes.
“Today’s sentence demonstrates the seriousness of those crimes and the Justice Department’s determination to investigate and prosecute efforts by the Chinese government, or any foreign power, to threaten our economic and national security,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
Xu, 42, accused of being a career intelligence officer for China’s Ministry of State Security, was detained in Belgium in 2018 after a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
He was alleged to have used aliases and front companies between 2013 and 2018 to target multiple U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, including GE Aviation, a unit of General Electric Co (GE.N).
China’s embassy in Washington did not respond to Reuters’ questions on the sentencing. Last year, China’s Foreign Ministry labeled the charges against Xu “pure fabrication.”
U.S. officials say the Chinese government poses the biggest long-term threat to U.S. economic and national security, and is carrying out unprecedented efforts to steal critical technology from U.S. businesses and researchers.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said his agency opens a new counterintelligence case related to China about twice a day.