Apple Concerned Ex-Employees Accused of Theft of Trade Secrets Will Flee to China

Apple today asked a federal court to continue monitoring two Chinese-born former employees accused of stealing trade secrets, citing “deep concerns” that the two could attempt to flee the country before their trials.

According to Reuters, prosecutors argued that Xiaolang Zhang and Jizhong Chen should have their locations monitored because they are flight risks.

Zhang was charged with theft of trade secrets back in July 2018 after he attempted to steal data on the car project that Apple has in the works. Prior to when he was caught, Zhang worked on Apple’s compute team, designing and testing circuit boards to analyze sensor data in autonomous vehicles.

Zhang had “broad access to secure and confidential internal databases,” and after announcing his plans to leave Apple for China-based XMotors, an investigation was launched due to suspicious behavior. Just ahead of leaving, Zhang accessed sensitive content that included prototypes, power requirements, low voltage requirements, battery systems, and more. Zhang was ultimately arrested at the airport in July 2018 attempting to leave for China.

In a separate incident, Apple caught Jizhong Chen, another Apple employee, taking photographs “in a sensitive workspace.” After launching an investigation, Apple security officials found that Chen’s personal computer contained “thousands” of Apple Car-related files, including manuals, schematics, photographs, and diagrams.

Chen had recently applied for a position with a China-based autonomous vehicle company and was arrested for theft of trade secrets one day before he was set to fly to China. Recently, it was also discovered that Chen had classified files from the Patriot missile program that belonged to Raytheon, his ex-employer.

Both men have been monitored electronically after being released on bail ahead of their trials, and they are now seeking to have that monitoring end. The lawyer for the men has said that they have not shown signs of violating pre-trial conditions thus far and did not actually share Apple’s intellectual property with a third party.

The lawyer has also argued that each man was going to China to visit relatives, not to escape prosecution, and that both have strong ties to the United States. Chen and Zhang are both facing multi-year prison terms and hefty fines if convicted.

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