The US won arrest warrants for the former president of a China state-owned chip maker and two other engineers charged with stealing secrets from Idaho-based Micron Technology.
The effort to apprehend the three men is notable because they were charged in 2018 in the first case filed under the Trump administration’s China Initiative, targeting trade-secret theft, hacking and economic espionage.
A federal magistrate judge in San Francisco issued the warrants on Wednesday after the three men failed to show for their arraignments.
While the prosecution of Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit has hobbled China’s aspirations of mass-producing memory chips, the case has crawled along, even as the Justice Department said the China Initiative would prioritise rapid action.
The arraignments of the engineers were repeatedly postponed by agreement between the US and their lawyers. Suddenly on Wednesday, in a three-minute hearing, a US prosecutor requested the warrants, telling the judge she knew the defendants would not show up after talking to their lawyers on Monday.
Their clients are not here for different reasons, Assistant US Attorney Laura Vartain Horn told the judge, without offering details. The appropriate thing to do, and what the government requests, is a warrant for each of the individual defendants.
Fujian Jinhua has pleaded not guilty and said it is eager to go to trial. Taiwan-based United Microelectronics Corp, or UMC, has also pleaded not guilty.
The warrants were issued for former Fujian Jinhua president Chen Zhengkun, or Stephen Chen, – He Jianting, or J.T. Ho; and Wang Yungming, or Kenny Wang. All three are Taiwanese nationals, and legal experts have said there is little motivation for them to appear in a US court. Neither China nor Taiwan has an extradition treaty with the US.
Ho and Wang, who previously worked for Micron before moving to UMC, and a third UMC employee were found guilty by a Taiwanese court two weeks ago of theft or assisting in the alleged theft of Micron’s secrets. The three men were sentenced to jail for periods ranging from 4½ to 6½ years and fined between NT$4 million and NT$6 million (US$136,000 to US$204,000).
The court also fined UMC NT$100 million (US$3.4 million).
UMC declined to comment. Fujian Jinhua spokesman Chad Kolton had no immediate comment.
A call to the law firm that was listed two years ago in the indictment as representing Ho was not answered.
In October 2018, a few days before the China Initiative was announced, the Commerce Department blocked sales of US chip-making gear to Jinhua, grinding to a halt the company’s plans to produce semiconductors.
From the criminal case, prosecutors stand to win an order requiring Jinhua and UMC to forfeit chips and income derived from technology allegedly stolen from Micron, as well as a ban on using Micron’s secrets for as long as five years.