ALBANY — A jury will return to U.S. District Court on Monday to begin its fifth day of deliberations in the economic espionage trial of former General Electric engineer Xiaoqing Zheng.
Zheng, 59, of Niskayuna, is accused of stealing trade secrets — also known as intellectual property — from GE, where he worked for a decade starting in 2008. Prosecutors allege Zheng, considered one of the world’s leading experts in turbine-sealing technology, clandestinely emailed trade secrets to himself to financially benefit himself and the government of China.
Jurors began deliberations late Tuesday afternoon in the trial before U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino. The panel, unable to reach a verdict Friday, will continue its deliberations on Monday at 9:30 a.m.
On Friday morning, the jury re-listened to portions of testimony from Cheng Chen, a professor of political science and international affairs specializing in East Asian studies at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany.
The prosecution called Chen to testify as an expert on the Chinese government.
Chen testified that between 2016 and 2021, China was in its 13th five-year plan, an initiative she said was rooted in efforts to transform China’s economy from a low-level manufacturer of goods to a world leader in innovation and technology. She said China hopes to advance in the fields of aero engines and industrial gas turbines, cyber security, computing and technologies for deep-sea exploration and space exploration.
Industrial gas lines, as a part of power generation, was at the top of the list, she said.
“This is a major national initiative,” Chen testified.
Chen said a related initiative, Made in China 2025, also includes a focus on turbine power generation due to aerospace being a top priority. Prosecutors allege that Zheng, a Chinese-born U.S. citizen, emailed dozens of GE files to himself, stealing company trade secrets to help his business interests in two companies in China: Nanjing Tianyi Aeronautical Technology (NTAT)and Lioning Tianyi Aviation Technology (LTAT).They allege he was far more involved in the two businesses in China than what he had told GE in disclosing his involvement in 2016.
The company put a monitor on Zheng’s computer, unbeknownst to him, in June 2018. A month later, it captured Zheng emailing 40 files from his work email account to his private account, all disguised under the computer screen of a sunset.
On Aug. 1, 2018, federal agents arrested Zheng after he returned from a three-week visit to China. He had spoken at a government-controlled college and met with the Communist Party secretary for Liaoyang Province in northeastern China at a signing ceremony in connection with a deal involving a Zheng-managed company.
The professor testified that in China, a communist country, the government controls banks and pays close attention to high-tech companies like those Zheng was involved in.
“In China, unlike the United States, the line between public and private is a very blurred one,” Chen testified under questioning from prosecutor Matthew Chang. “Obviously if you just want to set up like a mom-and-pop little shop or restaurant, probably the local government is not going to pay a lot of attention to you. However, if you are a relatively large enterprise, especially in the area of science and technology, it’s very likely that the government will want to pay very close attention to you and basically, you know, try to monitor you all the time.”
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Bradley Henry, Chen expanded on the subject. She said there was no clear line where Chinese government interest ended in the nation’s private industries.
“You can never tell because the government can influence you in a million ways because the government controls all the land in China and the government controls all the funding in China,” Chen testified.
Zheng’s attorneys, Henry and Kevin Luibrand, contend Zheng was trying to help GE’s business interests in China and did nothing wrong.
Zheng is charged with economic espionage; conspiracy to commit economic espionage; theft of trade secrets; and making a false statement.