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Chinese man released on bond in seed piracy case

April 23, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — One of six Chinese businessmen charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets of U.S.-based corn seed manufacturers for a Chinese competitor has been released from custody pending trial after posting a $50,000 cash bond.

Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, will be required to surrender his passport and live on home confinement under around-the-clock surveillance, according to release conditions set by a judge Tuesday.

Mo will pay for the security measures, which include installing a perimeter detection system, GPS monitoring, and constant surveillance by armed security staff who will immediately report any unauthorized departure to authorities. Mo’s new address was redacted from court documents, but he cannot leave Polk County — the greater Des Moines area — without prior approval from probation officials.

Mo had been jailed since he was arrested in Miami, where he lived at the time, in December following a 2 ½ year FBI investigation into the alleged theft of patented bio-engineered corn seed developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred Corp. and Monsanto. U.S. authorities described him as a Chinese national who became a legal U.S. resident, and said he served as the director of international business for a Chinese conglomerate with a corn seed subsidiary, Kings Nower Seed.

The FBI said Mo and five others tied to that company engaged in a conspiracy to steal highly valuable corn seed being developed at test fields in Iowa, and ship it back to China. The others who were indicted — including Kings Nower Seed CEO Li Shaoming and company employees — remain fugitives believed to be living in China. One may be in Canada.

Pioneer tipped off the FBI to a suspicious incident in May 2011 in which a field manager allegedly saw Mo on his knees in a test field in Tama featuring one of its most highly-anticipated inbred corn seed products under development. Company officials say losing one such line of seed could cost $40 million and years of research. Mo and others were allegedly spotted at a Monsanto test field in Iowa in September 2011. FBI surveillance teams say they observed Mo later traveling through the rural Midwest, obtaining seeds to ship or store at a Kings Nower Seed-owned farm in Illinois.

Mo has pleaded not guilty. A trial date is expected to be set at a status conference scheduled for next week.

In his order Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ross Walters said he believed the release conditions agreed to by federal prosecutors and Mo’s attorneys “will reasonably assure Mr. Mo’s appearance in court and the safety of any other person and the community” as required under federal law.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office had no immediate comment. Mark Beck, one of Mo’s attorneys with San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm, didn’t immediately return a message.

Update hourly