Two Americans Convicted of Economic Espionage for China

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A federal jury has found two U.S. citizens guilty of helping China obtain corporate trade secrets in exchange for millions of dollars.


Walter Liew and Robert Maegerle were convicted on charges related to economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, bankruptcy fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice.


Liew and Maegerle, along with three other individuals, stole chemical manufacturer DuPont’s recipe for titanium dioxide, a widely used chemical responsible for $17 billion annually in sales. Titanium dioxide is a whitening agent that is used in products ranging from paints and plastics to toothpaste, sunscreen and cosmetics to the insides of Oreo cookies, the “M”s on M&M candies and the honey mustard sauce served at McDonald’s and Wendy’s. On food labels it often goes by the name “E171.”


China had long sought to develop its own factory to produce the chemical and enlisted the help of Liew, whom prosecutors said received more than $20 million from the Chinese company Pangang Group for providing the recipe.


Liew and his wife, Christina, orchestrated the scheme and convinced Maegerle, a longtime DuPont scientist, to provide the insider information about the production of titanium dioxide.


The Liews recruited other DuPont workers as well. Tze Chao, another company scientist, pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to commit economic espionage and is awaiting sentencing. Tim Spitler, a former DuPont engineer suspected of being involved in the case, committed suicide.


Christina Liew will go on trial for her involvement later this year. Walter Liew and Maegerle each face 15 years or more in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for their convictions.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Two Individuals and Company Found Guilty in Conspiracy to Sell Trade Secrets to Chinese Companies (FBI San Francisco Division, U.S. Attorney’s Office)

2 Men Guilty in Sale of Trade Secrets to China (by Paul Elias, Associated Press)

Chinese Government-Controlled Companies Charged with Stealing DuPont Trade Secrets (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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